The Charleston Pride Festival is on a roll that keeps accelerating. Only in its sixth year, the festival is a week-long a celebration of the Charleston LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community with special events planned for spots all around the greater Charleston area between Saturday and Aug. 1. Some events are set up as casual get-togethers or formal forums, while others aim for wild fun with outrageous entertainment and carnivalesque festivities.
Tony Williams, the chief executive officer of Charleston Pride Festival, Inc., has seen the annual event grow from a one-day party and rally at a park in North Charleston into a multiple-event, city-wide phenomenon.
“For me, the first year of Charleston Pride was very memorable because we had no idea what the numbers might be,” Williams says. “We were hoping for at least 1,500 attendees. It ended up being thousands.”
A graduate of the College of Charleston, Williams has served several rolls with the Charleston Pride Festival since its kick-off in 2010, working as a park liaison, vendor coordinator and board member alongside the all-volunteer staff. He was elected chief executive officer in 2013. Williams believes the Charleston Pride Festival has successfully welcomed the community as a whole, set the path for growth and brought in new events.
“Moving the festival downtown in 2013 was a major step,” Williams says. “Just seeing people line the streets and show support during the parade will always stick in my mind.”
As always, a massive parade and rally will be the main events during the Charleston Pride Festival. On Aug. 1, the Charleston Pride Parade will kick off at 9 a.m. at the corner of Ann and King streets and wind down Broad Street toward Colonial Lake. At 10 a.m. that Saturday, the Charleston Pride Rally will come together at Brittlebank Park alongside the Ashley River with speakers, vendors, and food trucks on hand until 3 p.m.
Other staples of Pride include the Patti O’Furniture Show at Dudley’s and drag events at Tabbuli Grill.
Patti O’Furniture, a native South Carolinian, has been performing drag shows in Columbia, Charleston and around the state since 1998. Patti’s Thursday night shows at Dudley’s draw huge crowds for the mix of drag, comedy, costumes and music.
Hosting drag won’t be the only thing Patti O’Furniture will be up to during the Charleston Pride Festival. On Monday evening, she’ll head to Riley Park for a theme night at the baseball park.
“One of the things I’m extraordinarily proud of is the Charleston Rainbows Pride Night, set for Monday at 7 p.m.,” Williams says. “That was something new last year, and I so happy to have the Charleston RiverDogs involved in this ongoing partnership. Patti O’Furniture will throw out the first pitch, and at the end of the night, they’ll auction off throwback Charleston Rainbows jerseys (a nod to the Charleston Rainbows team, circa the 1980s). All of the proceeds will benefit Charleston Pride. A local sports team supporting the LGBT community; that’s not something you see all the time.”
One of the more serious-minded events of the festival is a Charleston mayoral candidate forum Wednesday at the Charleston Marriott on Lockwood Drive organized by the Acceptance For Full Alliance (AFFA).
In a post on its website, AFFA predicts the moderator will “ask the tough questions and get a provocative discussion going.”
“LGBT issues are still very controversial in South Carolina, and they matter a great deal to our own community and all our partners who advocate for equality,” the site states.
On the casual side, attendees can check out the food and drinks at a happy hour with BEAU Magazine, scheduled for July 31 at The Green Goat restaurant in West Ashley.
“Green Goat’s Kelly Ruff and Jason Lewis have been major supporters and supreme allies over the years,” says Maria Rivers, the publisher of the newly launched BEAU Magazine. “They’ll be giving back to Charleston Pride by donating from their happy hour and conducting raffles and all sorts of things.”
Published quarterly, BEAU features columns and stories that touch on the LGBT community at large and how it connects with mainstream society and LGBT-friendly allies within it.
A native of Alabama, Rivers launched the monthly Labrys Atlanta Magazine in Atlanta as the only lesbian/bi/trans-focused publication in Georgia in 2004. Rivers relocated to Charleston in 2010 and currently heads Profound River Productions, publisher of BEAU Magazine and Charleston Pride Festival’s current fest guide book.
“A couple of years before we launched BEAU, we did some research, conducted surveys and found that the vast majority of people in the Charleston area who identified as straight would be likely to support a business that is LGBT friendly and very likely to not support a business that was not LGBT friendly,” says Rivers.
“More families are involved now, more kids are coming out now and parents are more willing to embrace their children instead of shunning them,” she adds. “It’s much different than it was when I was growing up.”
Williams says the festival’s organizers try to offer several new events each year, some of which easily connect with the LGBT community and some that aim for a broader audience.
“This year, I’m especially looking forward to the stories that will be shared at the Charleston’s LGBTQ History: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going event in North Charleston on Sunday afternoon,” he says.
The festival also adds a comedy show to its calendar this year. Columbia-based comic Jen Synder will host LGBT LOL: A Night of Comedy at Club Pantheon on July 30. Born and raised in Columbia, Snyder specializes in observational stand-up comedy.
Snyder will welcome an array of acts to the stage, including local stand-up Michael Clayton, Charlotte-based comedian Mimi Benfield, actor/comedian Elyse Garfinkel, songwriter/comedian Lily Slay and the meticulous Jeremy McLellan, winner of the 2014 Charleston Comedy Festival Stand Up Competition at Theatre 99.
“I think the festival will continue to celebrate and educate while bringing everyone in the Charleston area together,” Williams says. “I think it will continue to be involved in the larger Charleston community and connecting with the community as a whole, bringing in our straight allies, and making sure that things keep growing into a better and larger festival.”