WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Community members took to the streets of downtown Winston-Salem on Saturday, Oct. 15 for their inaugural, locally-produced LGBT Pride festival and parade. The events were a first since the Twin City hosted the statewide NC Pride in 1996.
Officials with Equality Winston-Salem, the group that planned the events, told local media that an estimated 5,000 attended the street fair and afternoon parade. Only a handful of protesters were present at the parade.
Attendees hailed the event as a positive contribution to the growth of their city.
“I think it speaks really well to the progress we’ve made,” said Joe Foster. “We now have Equality Winston-Salem here and we are beginning to organize locally. I think a lot of attitudes have changed since the last Pride parade.”
Cathy, who attended the event with her close friend Sherry, said a local Pride festival was a sign of unity.
“It’s about being who we are and not having to hide, bringing awareness and bringing the community together where we can all be as one,” she said.
The festival, she said, was also a sign of progress for a state in which she initially felt some culture shock after moving to Burlington, N.C., from San Diego, Calif.
“I think it’s great to start something like this,” she said.
Susan Campbell, chair of the Forsyth County Democratic Party, attended the event with her group, which had an information booth set up during the street fair. She said events like Winston-Salem’s Pride show that the city is more welcoming than others might perceive.
“I think we’ve got lots of support in this city,” she said. “It’s a great place to be.”
Winston-Salem City Councilmember Dan Besse and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education member Elisabeth Motsinger participated in the parade and other events. Former Mayor Martha Wood was also on-hand, as was Winston-Salem Symphony Music Director Robert Moody. Openly gay state Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford) served as the parade’s grand marshall.
Democrat David Moore was also at the street fair. He’s running to unseat anti-gay state Rep. Lary Brown, a Republican who represents Kernersville, N.C. and other eastern portions of Forsyth County. Brown came under fire last year for using the slur “queers” and calling legislative supporters of LGBT equality “fruitloops.”
“I was enraged by [Brown’s comments],” Moore said. “Not only is that inappropriate but in this day and age we don’t need that. He needs to keep that in his living room.”
Moore, who is married, has one son who is a former marine and another who served in the U.S. Air Force. He said the recent repeal of the anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy prohibiting open military service by gay and lesbian Americans was a positive move for the country.
“I’m glad to see it go away,” he said. “[The policy] threatened our armed forces and [its repeal] maintains our capability at a higher rate.”
Moore said it was important for him to be at the festival and to be an outspoken advocate for the values he represents.
“You got to step out and make a statement,” he asserted. “You can’t be supportive of people’s rights and stay at home. You have to come out and spread the message.”
Like other LGBT community events across the state, Winston-Salem’s Pride festivities carried a sense of urgency. North Carolinians will vote on a proposed anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment on marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships in May 2012. Some organizations at the event, parade marchers and floats carried messages urging attendees to get involved and vote against the measure.