CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For the first time, an LGBT community group was allowed to march openly in Charlotte’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Previous parade policies and practices had allowed LGBT groups but forbade rainbow flags; past LGBT groups also had the words “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender” or “LGBT” stripped out of their organization biographies.
The Charlotte Pride Band was the only LGBT group to march in the parade this year. They carried a rainbow flag with their organization’s banner. Emcees at the parade’s grandstand announced the group as an “LGBT and straight ally” organization.
On Friday, more than two dozen LGBT community leaders — including this writer and this newspaper’s publisher — released a joint statement calling on the Charlotte St. Patrick’s Day Parade Foundation to change its practices.
Foundation board member Frank Hart had defended the ban on rainbow flags as late as Wednesday, telling qnotes that organizers considered the rainbow flag a “political” symbol.
“Regarding your flag, our parade rules, which we send out to all registered groups, clearly states that ‘No political or advocacy/cause banners are permitted in the parade’ and we felt that the flag advocated a political position,” Hart had said.
On Thursday, Hart refused to issue any further comment to qnotes and accused the newspaper of distortion.
“All of this is a bunch of stuff to get you publicity,” Hart said Thursday. “I’m not going to help you in that department anymore.”
Hart also told The Charlotte Observer that his event was being “smeared.”
Still, Hart and other parade organizers reversed course on Friday afternoon, telling The Charlotte Observer they would allow the Charlotte Pride Band to carry a rainbow flag.
Other LGBT groups, including the Charlotte Royals Rugby Football Club and Charlotte Pride, have marched in the event previously. Neither were permitted to carry rainbow flags and were never identified by emcees as LGBT organizations.
Anti-gay Knights funding still in question
The two dozen LGBT leaders had also asked the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, a parade sponsor, to stop supporting the event and for its CEO, Tom Murray, to withdraw as grand marshal, due to the events’ affiliation with he Knights of Columbus, a national Catholic fraternal organization that contributed $15.8 million to anti-LGBT marriage campaigns and other anti-LGBT causes from 2005-2012. A portion of proceeds from the parade and its related festival in Uptown Charlotte on Saturday benefit the national Catholic group.
Hart told The Charlotte Observer that members of the Knights of Columbus were volunteers at the event and were raising money to assist those with intellectual disabilities.
CRVA’s CEO did not withdraw and participated in the parade. But, CRVA told The Charlotte Observer on Friday that it hears “the concerns of members of the LGBT community and value their input. We also want to stay focused on our core mission in drawing visitors to experience the region.”
CRVA Communications Director Laura Hill had told qnotes that neither she nor her organization were aware of the Knights of Columbus’ anti-LGBT advocacy efforts. CRVA’s past sponsorship of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade had been nominal, about $1,000 last year. But, Hill said CRVA has changed the way it handles event sponsorship. They no longer give cash, she said, but support events through marketing and promotions.
Events like Charlotte’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration help promote the city as a destination, Hill said. CRVA supports a wide range of events throughout the year.
“We tend to look at a lot of different events that come to us for that kind of support,” Hill said. “Everything from Speed Street, [St. Patrick’s Day], Taste of Charlotte, you name it. We’re looking at events that promote the destination as a whole. … Our destination plan speaks to all that Charlotte has to offer, whether it’s a special event, an attraction or a restaurant. That’s what we’re marketing to at the end of the day.”
CRVA, Hill said, strives to support the entire community.
“We obviously support the LGBT community and realize it’s an avid travel audience, but we also want to support events in Charlotte that are tourism draws and St. Patrick’s Day is one of them,” she said.