All across the nation and in many cases, across the globe; June begins LGBTQ Pride month.

In the Carolinas pride events of one sort or another begin during the internationally recognized month and continue through September and October, wrapping up with related tie-ins to Bisexual Awareness Day (September 23) and National Coming Out Day (October 11).

One later event in the LGBTQ pride event on North Carolina’s calendar is Pride Durham. The LGBTQ community and friends celebrate the event September 24. This year also marks a return to live and in-person. Like many Pride celebrations around the world events in Durham have been previously stymied because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not so, this year! 

Looking back at American queer history, Pride celebrations were born out of a rebellion against oppression known as the Stonewall Riots, which took place in the wee hours of the morning on June 28, 1969.  On that date, NYPD officers raided the Stonewall Inn, a bar located in New York city’s, Greenwich Village, an area well-known for its concentration of LGBTQ residents and businesses.

The Stonewall Inn was a popular destination for the queer community – especially the drag and transgender community. Throughout the community, people had grown weary and angry about the abusive raids and finally decided enough was enough on that night in late June. The rebellion lasted for more than six days and laid the groundwork for pride marches, parades and events so many now attend.

Durham now annual march and festival came about as a result of and reaction to an area hate crime. In April, 1981 a gay man known as Ronald “Sonny” Antonevitch died from injuries after being beaten on the banks of the Little River in Durham. Antonevitch had been sunbathing on the banks of Little River along with three friends when a group of homophobic locals (four men and two women) began spewing hateful epitaphs and attacking the sunbathers with clubs and tree branches.

All but one was able to flee, Antonevitch – because of a physical disability – could not run. His disability resulted in him being beaten unmercifully, leading to his death. Durham’s LGBTQ community responded to the incident in a manner to what had occurred at the Stonewall Inn 12 years earlier, with angry protests in front of a courthouse and calls for justice.

A few months later North Carolina’s first gay and lesbian march “Our Day Out” was held on June 27, 1981. It attracted about 300 hundred brave marchers. Carl Whitman was one of those marchers and was quoted in the Durham Herald. “We just don’t want to let this incident at Little River pass. It’s a question of the whole atmosphere that would let something like this happen.”

Four years after Antonevitch’s murderers were sentenced for their crimes in a Durham court (in 1986), a second equal rights demonstration was held on the campus of Duke University. Over the next 14 years, annual pride events and marches would follow, held in other major cities throughout the state.

By the early 2000s the decision was made to keep the former state Pride event in Durham celebrating local queer culture, while other cities in North Carolina began to hold their own. Today, Whitman’s memory continues to be echoed in the spirit of Durham’s pride celebration and others.

Carolinians will be happy to learn that Durham’s Parade and festival are back after a 2021 hybrid (virtual and in person) pride event that was broken up between Duke’s campus and the city’s LGBTQ center (for the few in person community service vendors). Indeed, 2021 vendors were sparce in comparison to usual, but they will be back in abundance for 2022.

This year’s theme is “IRL!” (Inspiring Real Love) and organizers hope the experience will encourage the act of just that.

This year, as it began and has been for the many years prior, Durham’s Pride Parade and full festival of vendors is being held on Duke’s campus. Durham’s four major pride events will all happen on Saturday, September 24.

The evening after the parade and festival the festivities will continue with a concert held in Durham Central Park and a culminating party at The Fruit – a former produce warehouse repurposed into an arts and entertainment event space.

In a statement the Co-Chairs of Pride Carlos Fernandez and Jesse Huddleston confirmed this year’s event is expected to be attended by a crowd well into the thousands, and there are hopes for a larger attendance than in years past.

Huddleston explained why he expected the upsurge in attendance. “People are excited to gather and in general because the pandemic has been brutal. So, we’re really grateful and excited to come out and come together. I think that’s even more true because [Pride is the] reason people will come out [for events].”

The two are enthusiastic and clearly looking forward to a successful array of inclusive events that will highlight the trans and BIPOC Community. The parade’s Grand Marshall, Kimora Brooks, is a local drag artist and Black and indigenous trans person. Other performers representing the rainbow of diversity in the Durham LGBTQ community are drag queens and kings such as Stormie Dale, Dustin Reams and Teagress.

“There’s always intent behind what we do for community,” Fernandez explains. “We want to make sure we have representation and that there is diverse representation of community. Not just white community, not just Black community, but everyone.”

In addition, Pride Durham will also showcase the talents of Madame Gandhi, Zebra Katz and Imani Pressley. As the night ends pride party goers can look forward to dancing the night away to the tunes of DJ Wicked, Femi the Femme, DJ Ayo VIP and DJ Gay Agenda.

Huddleston feels the importance of Pride Durham can’t be understated.

“I think there are several things, but what comes to mind immediately is the rich history that we get to be a part of,” says Huddleston. “Not only do we experience but we also get to contribute and invest in that experience for the benefit of the community and the culture. I continue to meet people and learn of stories that relate to pride and people’s experiences. It’s what makes it worth protecting and preserving. It makes our community beautiful and strong.”

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