Jeff March has enjoyed living in the Carolinas for 40 years now and hasn’t looked back since his family relocated from Chicago decades ago. For March, Columbia, South Carolina, is home.
“It’s growing in a positive direction for a lot of communities, including the LGBT community,” March explains. A staple within South Carolina’s Pride community, he humbly admits, he is happy to be part of that change.
A business owner and community volunteer, March is a much respected hairstylist with 35 years of experience under his belt. For the past 30 years, he has been the owner/operator of Robert Jeffrey Salon – a hair Salon in downtown Columbia.
While speaking with Qnotes, March shared some of his insights into the intricacies of living a full life while making an indelible impact on the community. Has it been challenging? At times of course – well, maybe not the hairdressing part as much.
“It just came naturally for me,” he claims. “Nothing I wanted to do, or set out to do, something my mother made me do quite honestly. It’s just a very natural fit for me. Oddly enough, so is Pride. I was kinda’ pushed into a leadership role when no one else wanted the seat.”
What has been your involvement with South Carolina Pride?
I started working with South Carolina Pride 14 years ago, I was the volunteer coordinator for three years. Then, 11 years ago I became president.
What got you started?
I was one of those people that was going to our pride and wondering why things weren’t changing. Why can’t this be better? We were in a festival mode with just our community. When I started attending [Pride] meetings I was hearing phrases like “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” but we only had about 6000 – 8000 people and we didn’t have outside community members or allies. So, I needed to figure out how to make the general population comfortable with events they would attend.
How did that work out?
The first big thing I thought of doing was a comedy event. On July 13, 2012 we had Joan Rivers at the Koger Center for the Arts. The seating capacity there is 2200. It was my first [large scale Pride event]. It was a hugely successful event and it gave me the foresight to say, this is where we need to be. This is how we need to change the climate here for LGBT people in South Carolina through ally-ship.
Do you think the event helped to change the climate?
It did. It changed everything from that day forward. Our pride was moved from Finlay Park in 2012, to Main Street, in front of the state Capitol. I fought to have that happen.
Sounds like lots of work, especially for a full-time business owner. Would you say it is challenging?
It can be, but I’m very lucky. It doesn’t feel like a lot of hard work. I have a good time with both. Doesn’t mean it can’t be stressful, especially Pride. There are a lot of entities to Pride. Like the business side. It’s a financially secure organization [SC Pride] and still a volunteer one. Soliciting community participation can bring stress. Everyone loves Pride and wants to enjoy it. But when it comes to the work of making that happen, it’s a lot. There’s marketing and there’s inventing creative concepts and ideas.
When you’re feeling stressed or challenged, what or who can you count on for inspiration?
The Jonas brothers’ song “Remember This” is inspiring me to get to the finish line. It’s upbeat and inspirational.
Finish line? What do you mean?
I’m stepping down. It’s a volunteer position and I don’t want it to feel like it’s a job that I have to do. The longest sitting President before me only sat for three years. We’ve grown so much in the 11 years I’ve been involved. We’ve done a lot. I’m calling it retiring because I want to do something else. I’m not sure what that is [yet].
You’ve done so much for pride. Are there any particular accomplishments that you’re particularly proud of?
I was just given the Key to the City a few weeks ago. I am the first openly gay person to receive the Key to the City for my work for the LGBT community. It felt great! I haven’t gotten much attention or accolades within the political arena and I’ve always been the political challenger so to speak. A lot of people would say I’ve done a lot for Pride and while that might be true, Pride has done a lot for me. And for that I’ll always be grateful.
Anyone special you’ll be spending this next chapter with? Are you partnered?
Yes. I have a fiancé, Sergio. We’ve been engaged for two and a half years. He’s Costa Rican and we met on Facebook the day after my mom passed. The person who does social media for Pride posted it. Someone read and shared the post with him, which led to him sending me a condolence message. But then he followed up a week later. To be honest, I thought he was too pretty and that I was being cat-fished, so I kept him at bay for about two months before we finally decided to have dinner. He’s just an all-around good soul. Right now, we’re looking at 2024 [for the wedding date] but are prepared to move it up if our marriage rights are threatened before then. Right now, I don’t trust the Supreme Court because they lied during their interview process regarding the abortion issue.
If you could go anywhere in the world for an escape the madness dream vacation, where would you go?
My fiancé’s home is Costa Rica. I’ve been there a few times; I love his family and it’s very beautiful there. We bought a house in June in the outskirts of Columbia in the middle of nowhere because it reminds him of home. <thoughtful pause> I’ve always wanted to go to Australia. The only problem is, I’m not a flyer and it’s a long flight so I don’t know if that’s gonna happen.