Thousands turn out for Charleston Pride Parade

Mikey Tabakian (left) gathered with friends and thousands of others Saturday for the third annual Charleston Pride Parade in North Charleston.

Talk about Rainbow Row.

While most associate the term with the tourist attraction on East Bay Street in downtown Charleston, a living, breathing, fun-loving Rainbow Row — awash in rainbow flags, outfits, umbrellas and streamers — cheered up Park Circle and East Montague Avenue on Saturday with the third annual Charleston Pride Parade.

The parade, one of the hallmarks of Charleston’s celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, represented the mix of the community — including heterosexual supporters — in the open.

Among the spectators were Clyde and Mary Anderson, ages 84 and 79, respectively, who watched the parade from across the street from their church, North Charleston United Methodist Church.

The couple, married 57 years, were quietly supportive of the cause.

“A lot of my friends through the years have been gay, so I don’t have anything against that,” said Mary. “I don’t think they choose to be that way.”

Clyde, a World War II veteran, agreed, and said Jesus Christ taught Christians to love everybody.

Mary added, “Through the years, I have found that the people who are homosexual or gay are the most artistic, loving, caring people I’ve ever been around, and I have learned to accept them as they are. I feel like that’s the right way to be.”

Several decades younger than Clyde Anderson, 15-year-old Lana Bagley, of Hollywood, cheered the parade from the back of a pickup truck, where about 20 members of her family were gathered.

“I think it’s awesome. Most of my family is gay and lesbian, and it’s awesome that everyone can come out and be part of it,” she said. “It’s a new, more accepting world.”

Curbside, partners Jill and Heather Chumley-Jones brought their children, 3-year-old daughter Shelton and 1-year-old son Eli, out to witness the parade.

Heather admitted, “It’s nice that it’s family friendly and not crazy like some other Pride events I’ve seen.”

They also liked the fact that several churches participated in the parade, including Circular Congregational Church.

Circular’s The Rev. Jeremy Rutledge, who started as pastor in April, contrasted Charleston’s event with the one that he and his church attended in Houston for about 10 years.

“At about half of those events there were angry groups out protesting and yelling,” said Rutledge.

About 50 people from Circular marched in the parade, and many attended the Pride Rally that followed afterward at Riverfront Park in North Charleston.

“This is a struggle for justice that we’re happy to join as Christians and politically as citizens,” said Rutledge, of Circular’s long-held support of gay rights.

“It’s about treating everyone the same in the church and seeing everyone in all of their wholeness, not as a gender, or their race, or their sexual orientation, but as the whole person.”

Ken Immer, director and co-founder Charleston enlightenMEN, marched with fellow gay men in the group that focuses on wholesome activities, such as potluck dinners, bowling outings, camping trips and a monthly group meeting.

“We try to do things that invite fellowship and friendship that doesn’t require a trip to a bar or club,” said Immer. “We’re an alternative to the alternative lifestyle.”

He added that he hopes the group’s model will expand across the country and that one group from Savannah wants to create a similar one, noting that the group registered with InterPride and that Charleston’s festival is among the few on the coast.

EnlightenMEN were among the dozens of organizations offering information about activities and services at the Pride rally.

Christine Johnson, executive director of SC Equality, was explaining the role of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group based in Columbia.

This year, Johnson said SC Equality secured sponsors for a state hate-crimes bill — South Carolina is one of only five states without one — and amendments to the Safe Schools Act. The group also was promoting its new South Carolina license plate by putting temporary tattoos on rally attendees.

Attendance at this year’s Pride events are up, according to Charleston Pride Chairman Rob Lewis.

Estimates for last year’s rally were 6,000, and Lewis expected the numbers Saturday to range from 8,000 to 10,000.

With those numbers, Lewis said the Charleston Pride Festival is flexing its tourism muscles.

“I just think that word is spreading and that we’re getting better known,” said Lewis.

That said, plans for the Charleston Pride Folly Beach Party were undermined after the July 4 riot led to the city of Folly Beach putting a temporary ban on alcohol and amplified music.

Lewis said that Pride had planned to provide music, along with other fun events such as corn toss games and tug-of-war, and as of mid-afternoon Saturday still had not completely ruled out having the event, minus music.

Word of the decision will be posted on the Charleston Pride website and via mass emails.