Color and camaraderie are two crucial pieces of the Out! Raleigh Pride Festival on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, which will take place on Saturday, June 24. 

“Running from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., the event offers live entertainment, local vendors and artists, great food, a KidsZone, and a beer garden,” the festival’s press release states. “In the last ten years, the event has become an integral part of Raleigh’s downtown culture, promoting diversity, awareness, and a sense of inclusiveness for the LGBTQIA+ community. Each year has been more successful than the last, and this year will be no exception!”

This year’s celebration marks the 11th LGBTQ Pride Month celebration in the N.C. capital city. The annual festival started in 2011 with the idea of taking a family-friendly approach to traditional pride celebrations. This included adding kid-friendly activities, crafts and performances.

“Most pride events are known for being inclusive and colorful but also highly sexualized,” reads a blog post from Out! Raleigh Pride’s 2011 event. “Out! Raleigh stands out as a festival which is safe for the little members of our families to enjoy entertainment that is geared towards them.”

The inaugural event for Out! Raleigh Pride also featured five faith-based organizations, which is something the LGBT Center of Raleigh said was important to include. 

“Many of them spoke and gave their support to a community that is often excluded from spiritual and religious sects of society,” the blog post states, referring to other pride festivals. “Five churches participated in that first festival, and we were treated to a confirmation of support from Mitchell Gold of Faith in America, who encouraged the community to be themselves and spread love and kindness.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have attended Out! Raleigh Pride over the years, including many entertainers and performers who make the pride celebration the coveted event people look forward to every year. 

This year’s headliner performer will be Frenchie Davis, a Broadway performer and former American Idol and The Voice contestant. 

“She’ll be sharing her soul/dance/pop musical talents with us on the Pride Stage (on) June 24 and an extra special reception on June 25,” Out! Raleigh Pride’s Facebook post stated.

One person can’t organize an event as large as Out! Raleigh Pride — it takes a village. In the case for this year, Out! Raleigh Pride’s leadership team consists of seven people: Kori Hennessey, John Hull, Gwendolyn Love, Elise Chenoweth, Amy Cox, Bree Petrillo and Helicia Chiang.

Hennessey has worked with Raleigh’s LGBTQ Center and currently serves as the interim executive director. They are this year’s festival director and said last year’s 10th-anniversary celebration was the biggest so far. 

“PRIDE, to me, means celebrating who you are without shame or stigma while remembering and honoring the history,” Hennessey said. “This festival has always been a place where I’ve done just that. I can stop, look around, and truly see the impact it has on our growing southern city.”

Hull has worked on the festival planning committee for “a number of years,” according to his biography on the Out! Raleigh Pride website. He said he continues to volunteer his time to the event as he believes it provides a safe space in a state where not every community is accepting of LGBTQ+ individuals. 

“I grew up in a very conservative community, and there weren’t resources for me to learn about being gay or places where I felt accepted and loved,” Hull said. “This wonderful event brings together individuals with a huge amount of diversity, all coming together to celebrate the LGBT+ community and how far we have come.”

Songbird Frenchie Davis headlines the 2023 Out! Raleigh Pride Festival on June 24.

Love is the program coordinator for Raleigh’s LGBTQ Center. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in African and African American Diaspora Studies with a concentration on Black Sexuality Studies and Women and Gender Studies.

She said one of the fun things about Out! Raleigh Pride is the fabulous ensembles people wear. 

“I’m here for all the fits,” she said. “To me, PRIDE means being able to live in my true authentic self without explanation or concern for what others may perceive: being able to showcase all the best parts of my identities, and never having to worry about dimming my light.”

Chenoweth is the director of the Triangle area’s chapter of Drag Story Hour, and she has been in that role for over four years. She is working to bring fun activities to the KidZone portion of the festival for children to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community. 

“Bringing Pride to the Kidzone is important to me, because it encourages children to look beyond rigid gender stereotypes and embrace themselves and the people around them for who they really are inside,” she said. 

Cox and Petrillo are both with Deep South Entertainment — a Raleigh-based entertainment agency. Cox is the company’s senior vice president, while Petrillo serves as the events coordinator. 

Songbird Frenchie Davis headlines the 2023 Out! Raleigh Pride Festival on June 24.

Cox said Deep South Entertainment has helped to organize Out! Raleigh Pride since its inaugural event in 2011, and she’s very glad to be a part of the process. 

“When a collective of volunteers/leaders from the LGBT Center of Raleigh approached Dave Rose and myself in 2010 about doing the Out! Raleigh festival, Deep South was 100 percent on board and ready to support the efforts,” Cox said. “As an ally in the community, I have thoroughly enjoyed producing this very inclusive festival that is for everyone.”

Chiang works with the LGBTQ Center in Raleigh as its operations manager. This is her second year helping plan Out! Raleigh Pride, which is something she takes pride in. 

“Pride is a celebration of equality, love, and progress as well as a time to remember and honor those who came before us that sacrificed their peace to create it for us,” Chiang said. “To me, Pride is about living as your true self and being accepted and loved without fear of shame or rejection … I love this community and Out! Raleigh Pride is an amazing opportunity to create new bonds and grow.” 

Out! Raleigh Pride provides a safe space for LGBTQ people and allies to come together, and Hennessey said it’s important to stand tall and proud, especially in the face of hate. 

“With all the bigotry and hate that has been filling our lives this year already, we need Raleigh, Wake County and the state of North Carolina to know that we are here and we are queer,” they said. 

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