Report: firefighters were inadequately trained and exposed to excessive risk

David Quick // The Post and Courier

Charleston Pride Festival Grand Marshall "Miss Brooke Collins," an entertainment icon in the Southeast's gay community since 1985, drew fans to the stage at Riverfront Park in North Charleston on Saturday. As he lip-synched three songs, including "It's Raining Men," fans instantaneously started shoving dollar bills into the drag queen's hands.

In just one year since the first Charleston Pride Festival, leaders in the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community say that momentum for change and acceptance is building in the Lowcountry.

The three-day celebration, sponsored by Absolut Vodka, concluded Saturday in North Charleston with a Pride Parade and Rally in the morning, a festival at Riverfront Park in the afternoon and the "Absolutly Born This Way" after party at 10 Storehouse Row in the evening.

"It's been great," said Bastian Fennell, president of Charleston Pride. "We've seen a lot of support from the North Charleston community and from all around Charleston. We've had lots of families come out today."

Fennell said the parade included more entries, nearly 50, than last year and the festival drew more than 4,000. As of mid-afternoon Saturday, the event drew no protesters.

Organizers of the festival said one of its main goals is to open the eyes of the greater Charleston community and to demonstrate the need for acceptance, said Rob King, Pride board member and entertainment director.

"We're no different than anybody else," King said. "And just as people were fighting for civil rights 40 years ago, we feel like we're entitled to the same civil rights today. In South Carolina, we are sometimes a bit behind the times and we want to help bring the state into the 21st Century."

While fun and camaraderie seemed to dominate the festival, some were making sure that attendees realized the importance of voting. Several people were circulating Riverfront Park making sure attendees were registered to vote.

Keith Riddle, president of South Carolina Stonewall Democrats (which works on LGBT issues), told the crowd that voting was critical -- on the national and local level, such as the school board

"School boards are working to do away with bullying," Riddle said. "We're looking for those who are going to recognize that gay, lesbian, transgendered students in schools are getting bullied and to put a stop to it."