Blooming with Pride

Economy and financial matters a concern as organizers gear up for 2009 Pride season

Dogwoods bloom. Trees regain their leafy greens. April showers soon give way to sultry, southern summer days. Spring is in the air, and LGBT community organizers around the Carolinas are hustling to get their plans ready for this year’s season of Pride celebrations and festivals.

It is a banner year for Pride, nationally and locally. We celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots this June. The South Carolina Pride Movement celebrates its 20th anniversary in September. A new local Pride takes root in the upstate of South Carolina.

Q-Notes spoke to Pride organizers across the region to gauge their planning progress in the face of a seemingly disastrous climate. Despite the national financial meltdown, organizers say they’ll pull through and provide the joyous celebration and sense of community LGBT folks have come to expect from their annual Pride festivals.

Jay Ault, publicity co-chair for the new Upstate Pride, says their group expects 250-300 people will participate in their first-ever march and festival on June 20. He says local community members felt it was time to have their own celebration.

“We felt it was time to hit home and allow the people in the GLBTIQ/Straight Ally community to show their support and pride instead of having to travel at the least an hour to be part of a Pride,” he says.

Ault is encouraged by the financial support the group has received thus far. “We as a new organization are actually fairing pretty well,” Ault says. “We are receiving donations from dozens of individuals (and they just keep coming) and a couple of groups.”

He says they’ve found it more difficult to solicit contributions from area businesses. Ault thinks the economy isn’t necessarily to blame. “We feel that this could also be due to fear of being associated with such an event in our area.”

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Other Palmetto State Prides are also feeling a pinch, but are moving full-steam ahead. Ryan Wilson, president of the South Carolina Pride Movement (SCPM), says organizers there are excited about their plans — the entertainment wish list includes out comedienne Wanda Sykes — but are being realistic when it comes to funding expectations.

“So far we have struggled to raise the funds that we have raised,” he says. “We are nowhere near our goals.”

SC Pride also expects some gaps in public and private funding.

“We may not be able to count on grants and major sponsorships so we will continue to cut costs where we can and come up with more creative ways to raise funds,” he says.

Last year, the SC Pride festival and parade received a sizeable $10,000 grant from the City of Columbia. Wilson says they’ve been notified that such public grants could be reduced by 25 percent or more, as governments are left dealing with decreased income and revenue streams, budget crunches and impending layoffs.

Wilson says the group has applied for a total of $50,000 worth of grants for SC Pride and another $15,000 for the Harriet Hancock Community Center.

SC Pride is hoping community members will shore up any possible losses. In celebration of their 20 th anniversary, they’re encouraging folks to renew their annual SCPM memberships for a special rate of $20 per person. But the group knows they aren’t the only ones feeling the squeeze.

“We know that our community is suffering and may not have the funds to travel as much this summer,” Wilson says, “that’s why we remain committed to offering as many free events as possible.”

Pride Charlotte organizers Denise Palm-Beck and Jonathan Hill also recognize the economic situation will have an impact on how community members choose to spend their money.

“We need to be cognizant of the economic situation,” Palm-Beck says, noting that this year Pride Charlotte won’t be expanding their festival grounds at Gateway Village.

Like SC Pride, Pride Charlotte is looking to give back to community members. They’ll keep things low-cost on their end and keep events as cheap or as free as they can. As in years past, their annual festival on July 25 will continue to be free for participants.

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“We also decided not to raise vendor fees, to help businesses and vendors with the crunch,” Hill says.

Palm-Beck says she hasn’t seen a significant change in donations and sponsorships from last year, but says the group is keeping their tabs on the situation. “We’d be silly if we weren’t keeping that in mind,” she says.

If there are gaps in funding, perhaps it comes from corporate sponsors giving less. Hill says the time is ripe for garnering more support from an increased number of corporate allies. “The [NCAA] basketball tournament had more sponsors this year than they ever have,” he says.

Charlotte Black Gay Pride organizer Lyncoia Handy says his group’s fundraising levels have been almost the same as last year, despite some challenges.

“Securing funds has always been a difficult part to making the weekend happen,” he says. “Some of the problems we have encountered in the past we still encounter as we attempt to raise the funds. The economy being what it is really hasn’t hampered or thrown a monkey wrench in our plans.”

Pride organizers say the economy has prompted them to come up with creative ways to fundraise.

South Carolina Black Pride chair Todd Shaw says his group will be hosting several small fundraising events before their main week of activities. He says that sponsors have contributed about the same amount of funds as last year.

OutWilmington’s Frank Efird says his group will focus on their main event — a RuPaul performance — and keep costs down on other, smaller events during their Pride week. He also thinks that focusing on the community-involvement component of Pride will help to draw in more participation and financial support.

Likewise, Alternative Resources of the Triad President Richard Gray says Triad Pride organizers have partnered with local community organizations and businesses to ensure successful and fun events. He says they’ll create ways for people to get involved through their own organizations, such as volunteer opportunities.

Whatever comes the way of Pride organizers, Pride Charlotte’s Palm-Beck says keeping the emphasis on community is important, if only to give people a chance to escape from the push and pull stresses of everyday life.

“The economy puts such a damper on people’s spirits,” she says. “People need something like this.”

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer is a staff writer for QNotes. He previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015.