In this month’s column, Liz Schob reflects on a year of firsts and what it means to celebrate joy and liberation at Pride.

by Liz Schob (she/her) Communications Manager, Charlotte Pride

I’m standing in the middle of Tryon Street surrounded by a sea of rainbows and shouts of excitement from an exuberant crowd walking past me. It’s August 2019 and I’m at the Charlotte Pride Festival for the very first time. I’d only been in the Queen City for a month before my new colleagues at the nonprofit I worked at informed me that I’d have to set up and run our booth all weekend. I knew it would be a laborious task, but I was thrilled to do it.

I had only a few years before started accepting who I am – a queer woman – and attending my first Pride as an out member of the LGBTQ community held so much meaning for me. Whenever I think back to that first Pride weekend in Charlotte, I forget about the exhaustion and humid August heat I experienced running that booth all weekend and think about the joy and liberation I felt being surrounded by my community and our allies. Even though I had attended other Pride festivals previously, the celebration hits differently once you’ve kicked your way out of the closet.

This year will also be a first for me. For the very first time, I won’t be running a booth or simply enjoying the festivities as an attendee – I’ll be helping to run the entire show as a staff member at Charlotte Pride. Getting a behind-the-scenes perspective on what it takes to put on the largest festival and parade in the city as well as one of the largest Pride festivals in the Southeast has given me a deeper appreciation for how far our community has come and what we are capable of when we come together in joy, determination, and liberation. I’m under no false notion that it hasn’t been a really challenging time for our community. A lot has changed since that first brick was thrown as Stonewall, yet so much remains the same.

There are still so many misguided people who don’t think that we should be able to exist as our whole selves in public spaces and believe that we should be legislated back into the closet. The constant attacks are, frankly, exhausting.

What helps me stay encouraged is the fact that love truly does win. Time and time again bigots have sought to erase us, but we have something they don’t: liberating joy. Our community has always known struggle, but we also know the joy that comes from being free to live and love as your whole self. Our elders, particularly our BIPOC elders, who led the movement, knew what the future could be. They saw a future where everyone would be free to live and love as their whole self. They saw what was possible. It’s our job now to realize that future and I believe we can do it.

When I think back to the very first time I attended a Pride festival and the first time I attended the festival here in Charlotte to where I am now, I’m reminded of all that is possible. It is my sincere hope that everyone who is attending a Pride festival this year – whether you’ve attended for years or are attending for the very first time – sees what is possible when we refuse to give in to the bigots and people who have allowed ignorance to cast a shadow over their lives. Let’s show them the freedom and liberation that comes when you step out of the closet and into the rainbow-colored light.

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