RALEIGH, N.C. — After nine months of preparation, the seventh annual Out! Raleigh festival faced an unfortunate closure due to extreme weather. High-speed winds in the early afternoon of May 6 blew down vendors’ tents and threatened injury to attendees. Organizers decided to cancel the festival on Saturday, which was scheduled for 11 a.m.-6 p.m., at 2 p.m.
The event is organized by the LGBT Center of Raleigh and is the non-profit’s biggest fundraiser of the year. The 2016 festival drew more than 51,000 people from across the state. James Miller, the center’s executive director, said that a rough head-count at the time of the closure measured around 30,000 attendees.
The day began with a chilly drizzle, according to Miller. By the time the festival opened, the sky had cleared and the day promised sun. Unfortunately, extreme wind picked up in the afternoon.
“By 1:30, vendors were having to hold onto their tents,” Miller told qnotes. “It broke my heart because when I went up on stage, it was sunny and about 67 degrees.”
The wind blew at 22 miles per hour (mph) that day, with gust speeds of 31 mph, the National Weather Service reported. The Southeast Regional Climate Center noted that the average wind speed for Raleigh in May is 7.7 mph.
The staff of the LGBT Center of Raleigh are “devastated” that the disaster prompted them to shut down their most vital event.
“We’ve all shed a few tears, and rightfully so,” said Miller. “It’s hard to know you’re doing the right thing when it feels so wrong.”
Nevertheless, a joint discussion among key parties led to the decision that all agreed was the most responsible choice.
“Deep South (our production company), Raleigh Police Department and the Executive Committee of the LGBT Center all huddled and discussed the issues,” Miller said. “Safety always comes first, and we had seen some damage start to occur. Nothing is worth risking the harm of our community, so we made a joint decision to close early.”
Though the LGBTQ community of the area understood the unfortunate events, there was some concern over the economic impact of the cancellation. Supporters of the center particularly worried that the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year fell short of its goals. The funds raised by events such as these go toward the center’s many community support programs.
“We do have insurance, but it is all based on expenses,” Miller mentioned. He added sarcastically, “that and we all know how easy it is to deal with insurance companies, right?”
Nevertheless, the LGBT Center of Raleigh has high hopes for future events and next year’s festival. Miller teasingly mentioned “surprises up our sleeve” regarding the 2018 celebration, even suggesting that the organization was considering a new location for its annual event.
“I think an interesting idea has been to move the festival to Dix Park after the renovations,” Miller said. “Who knows when it’ll be done, but ‘Pride in the Park’ always has a nice ring to it!”
On May 16, the LGBT Center of Raleigh continued its “Dine OUT” series at the Oro Restaurant in downtown Raleigh. The venue’s chefs planned a custom menu just for the event, staff said.
The organization is looking forward to future events and further service to the LGBTQ community. “What I love most about this community and this center, however, is how resilient we all are,” Miller said. “We’ll debrief, learn our lessons, and come back stronger than ever.”