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Time to celebrate with PRIDE Charlotte!
Revamped event in new location expects to attract large crowd

by Mark Smith

Gateway Center, PRIDE Charlotte festival site
CHARLOTTE — Pride celebrations in Charlotte date back to the late ’70s, with events held at the UNC-Charlotte, Bryant Park and Marshall Park, the parking lot at Scorpio and The VanLandingham Estate.

Those events have been produced by various individuals and organizations over the years.

PRIDE Charlotte 2006 marks a first on two fronts: the Gateway Village location and the fact it is now officially under the guidance of the city’s Lesbian and Gay Community Center.

“I think it’s extremely important for this event to be under our direction,” says Center Board Chair Joe Campos. “The Center is the public face of the LGBT community. It’s the one place that allows us to work together and have a sense of community. It shows us and the rest of the city how we can accomplish our goals and things that are important to us. It truly is the foundation for the LGBT community, so for the Center to take over Pride is a natural fit.”

Campos goes on to explain how important the development is not just for Charlotte’s LGBT community, but for the Center as well.

“It’s an excellent program for the community center,” Campos explains. “It will be one of its prime programs and I think it will help clearly illustrate the mission of the Center.”
When PRIDE Charlotte Task Force co-chairs Laura Witkowski and Jim Yarbrough announced at a press conference last May 5 that the city’s annual Pride celebration was changing dates and locations, they knew they had months of work and planning ahead of them.

Working together with a 12-member task force, the newly-formed organization struggled at first, trying to pick up the pieces left behind by the previous organization.
A new date was chosen. Multiple locations were reviewed. Some volunteers resigned. More volunteers came on board. Finally a location was nailed down.

Then it was fundraising time.
PRIDE Charlotte Task Force members began to reach out to local individuals, business owners, clubs and corporate Charlotte. Many responded eagerly, donating much-needed funds to keep the event afloat.

Scorpio nightclub was the first major corporate donor to get on board. At press time, additional major donors include Bank of America, Q-Notes and Wachovia.

Now it’s clear that all the effort has finally paid off, as the PRIDE Charlotte festival will officially kick off Monday, Aug. 21 with a presentation by the Metropolitan Community Church-Charlotte’s Rev. Mick Hinson, entitled “Homosexuality and the Scriptures” at The Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Community Center.

The week-long celebration continues with a film screening and panel discussion, a special drag performance night at Scorpio (a “Miss PRIDE Charlotte” contest will also be held there later in the week) and a gay comedy night at The Perch. Pride-related parties will also take place at The Charlotte Eagle, The Woodshed and Liaisons (see events calendar).

The Takeover Friday crew will host a Pride weekend kick-off party at the Westin Hotel Aug. 25, leading up to the big day on Aug. 26 when PRIDE Charlotte’s main day of festivities takes place at Gateway Village, located in uptown Charlotte, at the corner of West Trade and Cedar Streets.

“We’re extremely excited that PRIDE Charlotte will be held at Gateway Village,” says Witkowski. “It’s a wonderful site,” Yarbrough concurs. “It’s privately-owned, yet highly visible in a downtown location that blends architecture with landscape, covered space and open air space with plenty of room for vendors, speakers and entertainment.”
As to the future of the event, organizers are unclear as to possible venue and date changes.

“There is a distinct possibility that we will very quickly outgrow the size of the Gateway location,” says Yarbrough. “But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“I think many people would prefer the event be held in May or June, so that’s something we’re looking at for next year,” says Witkowski.

Campos agrees. “We’re just happy that the PRIDE Charlotte Task Force was able to pull this all together,” he says. “For next year, though, I think I’d prefer to see it back in May or June.”

One thing’s for sure — no matter what the date or location — PRIDE Charlotte will be back again next year and every year for the foreseeable future.

“Charlotte has changed so drastically in just the past five years — it’s a very open and accepting place,” says Campos. “With new people arriving here every day from other parts of the country, Pride shows people how diverse and accepting the city is.

“In the years to come I think it will take on a significantly larger role, not just for the community, but for the city itself because an event like this allows us to celebrate our challenges and diversity. It allows the community to really showcase itself. It shows that Charlotte and the rest of the south is not as it once was and is a desirable place for all diverse backgrounds.”

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