The Charleston Pride Festival is a little of what you might expect and a lot of what you might not.
There will be rainbows and drag queens, parties and DJs, but there also will be members of the local community coming together to celebrate unity and acceptance in the face of adversity and remembering the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women who came before them and sparked the social change that continues today.
The festival begins today with “Art for Pride,” an art walk in Park Circle celebrating local LGBT artists, and culminates in a parade on Saturday and a beach bash Sunday at Folly Beach. Along the way there are other activities such as the LGBT Film Festival and a meet and greet for “Gay in America” author Scott Pasfield.
Although there will be many highlights along the way, the parade is the core of the festival and the most public demonstration of the community’s confidence.
This year’s parade begins at 11 a.m. at Riverfront Park, and the organizers are promising a bigger parade with more floats than ever before.
Serving as grand marshal of this year’s parade is Rita Elaine Taylor.
Taylor and her partner of 14 years, Sherry Clark, are prominent figures in the local LGBT community, and have worked diligently with organizations including Hospice of Charleston, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Lowcountry AIDS Services. A Charleston resident for many years, Taylor is considered instrumental in laying the foundation for the Charleston LGBT community.
In recent years there has been a call by some members of the LGBT community for an end to pride festivals and a call to be more proud the whole year through. Many in the local community, however, are adamant that pride celebrations are more than just flagrant parties.
“Pride celebrations are not a celebration of being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Most importantly, we celebrate pride events to commemorate what is viewed as the launch of the modern-day LGBT civil rights movement, spawned by the Stonewall Riots of 1969,” said Rob Lewis, chairman of the board of Charleston Pride Inc., the group producing the festival. He continues, saying that the term “pride” was used to denote pride in the community’s accomplishments and not just a flippant choice of words to describe a celebration.
Trevor Donovan, founder of Takeover Charleston along with his partner Marshall Morris, adds, “Pride is year-round, but a week-long festival such as the Charleston Pride Festival is necessary. It brings more of our community together than any other event during the year.
“I think it takes both festivals and year-round events to keep our community educated, informed and united,” Donovan said.
Takeover Charleston is the group responsible for organizing events for the LGBT community where they “takeover” a local hotspot that might not usually be associated with the gay community. Takeover Charleston will be hosting the official kick-off party for the Pride Festival today at DIG in the Park in Park Circle.
More than fun
As the term festival suggests, the annual extravaganza is meant to be fun for all involved and is certainly open to anyone who wishes to participate, but it serves a higher purpose, too.
The work that Charleston Pride Festival Inc. does the rest of the year culminates during this time.
Lewis said the “primary purpose is to educate our community about the obstacles encountered within the LGBT community, and specifically provide crisis intervention and suicide prevention among our youth who are LGBT or questioning their sexual orientation.”
So while the event is certainly about celebrations, it is also about facing the real-life challenges to being a minority group fighting for equal rights.
When asked about change in the Charleston community, Lewis and Donovan were hopeful.
“I think change has already started with help from groups such as Charleston Pride, Takeover Charleston, SC Equality, AFFA (Alliance for Full Acceptance) and We Are Family” Donovan said. “That in itself is one of the main reasons we do Takeover. Yes, it brings everyone together, but it also shows everyone that we are … a big part of the Charleston community.”
Lewis postulates that the events during the festival are “a means to demonstrate that sexual orientation does not change the fact we are still contributing members of society, paying taxes, consuming products, raising families and even attending church.”
He and Donovan both point out that members of the LGBT community are neighbors, and friends. They are your soldiers, police and firefighters, and they are brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.
‘Young and growing’
This is the third year for the Charleston Pride Festival. Lewis said “(it) is a young and growing organization. As with any such endeavor, growth is determined by the support of the community, the effectiveness in fulfilling its mission and the dedication of its volunteers.”
He admits that Charleston Pride does not draw the same high-profile figures as similar events in big cities like Atlanta or New York, but points out that the local organization is growing at an unprecedented rate and that is another thing of which to be proud.