COLUMBIA — A week-long series of events will lead up to what organizers said might be the largest SC Pride Parade and Festival yet. The international attention provided LGBT issues in the state after the weeks-long reporting of a gay-oriented tourism ad in London, England, has lent the Palmetto State LGBT community a hand-up in visibility.

The group will also be getting help from the City of Columbia, this year’s festival sponsor. The city gave SC Pride a $10,000 promotional grant. Radio station WXRY 99.3 is the parade sponsor.

Ryan Wilson, president of the S.C. Pride Movement, said he expects the extra attention, funding and presence of headline entertainer RuPaul will contribute to this year’s parade and festival being “the largest LGBT event in South Carolina history.”

“We’re estimating that RuPaul will bring in several thousand people,” Wilson told Q-Notes. “The amount of advertising we’ve done should bring in more. We’re bracing ourselves for 10,000.”

While the expected number — the same amount as the 2008 Pride Charlotte Festival held in a city five times the size of Columbia — might sound outrageous to some, Wilson is nonetheless hopeful.

He said his organization has reached out across the entire region, from Atlanta Pride to Pride Charlotte and through various fundraising and organizing functions spanning the height and width of the Palmetto State.

Wilson also said the media controversy surrounding the recent “So Gay” advertising flap will bring in more people.

“The two biggest years we’ve ever had was the year the mayor and city council of Greenville had some isues back in the mid-1990s and that success was generated by the press,” he said. “The same thing happened in Myrtle Beach 10 years ago. The media and controversy bring out the curious bystanders who wouldn’t usually come.”

The S.C. Pride president also believes that having the weekend of the parade and festival coincide with a University of South Carolina football game is bound to draw out quite a few more “curious bystanders” than usual.

Last year’s parade had 45 entries, Wilson said, and this year they’ve already surpassed that number. The group is also printing 1,000 more copies of its annual Pride Guide than they had originally planned.

A tentative schedule of events is already posted on the organization’s website, They include an opening Pride reception hosted by South Carolina Black Pride. Wilson said the organization has worked hard to reach out to all portions of the Palmetto State’s LGBT community.

Other events in the week leading up to the parade and festival include the 2008 Pride Pageant at PT’s Cabaret on Saturday, Sept. 13. The event starts at 9 p.m. and a $10 requested donation serves as admission at the door.

On Sunday, Sept. 14, Garden of Grace United Church of Christ will host their Opening Pride Worship Service, also marking its 15th anniversary.

The Third Monday Workshop at the University of South Carolina will host a screening of “For the Bible Tells Me So” on Monday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. A panel discussion will follow the event.

Other events include a showing of short LGBT films sponsored the Nickelodeon Theatre on Tuesday, a Wednesday open house at the Harriet Hancock Community Center and a SC Equality-sponsored town hall forum at the Embassy Suites Columbia on Thursday.

On the night prior to the Saturday, Sept. 20 parade and festival the “Hero Awards Gala” will be held 7 p.m.-10 p.m. at the Embassy Suites Columbia, followed by the “Villain After Party” at Club Fusion. A $30 ticket to the awards gala includes $10 cover at Fusion before 11:30 p.m. DJ Junior Vasquez will be spinning all the latest beats.

Saturday’s festivities in Columbia’s Finlay Park begin at 11 a.m.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.