Thousands of LGBT community members from across the Carolinas gathered at Uptown’s Gateway Village for the 2009 Pride Charlotte festival on Saturday, July 25.
Organizers said the event was a success, despite vocal anti-gay protests from religious leader Dr. Michael Brown and his Coalition of Conscience.
Event co-chair Clay Smith said police estimates put attendance at anywhere from 12,000-15,000 for the day. He said the event had almost 90 vendors, down from a little over 100 in 2008.
Smith said he was disappointed so much of the mainstream media’s news coverage focused on the protesters who gathered across the street from the festival grounds.
“We had a fantastic day of fun and fellowship and that is what we need at least once a year,” Smith said. “If anything is newsworthy, I think that is what is most important.”
Organized weeks in advance by Brown and the Coalition of Conscience, the “God Has a Better Way” rally attracted as many as 500 participants, according to The Charlotte Observer. In a prepared statement to the media, Brown said his rally’s goals were two-fold: “We say ‘Enough is enough’ to the destructive goals of gay activism and we say to the GLBT community, ‘Jesus loves you and God has a better way!’”
Brown enlisted the help of friend and colleague Lou Engle, director of TheCall, a national prayer movement. Three weeks before their rally at Pride Charlotte, Engle attended a Sunday evening worship service at Brown’s FIRE Church in Concord. There he called his movement against the “homosexual agenda” a “battle” and a “war.” At the service he asked for “warriors” and likened “powerful prayer” to the power of a machine gun.
Despite the violent and militant overtones, Brown claims his “Jesus Revolution” is a non-violent and compassionate spiritual movement.
There were no reports of violence, intimidation or harassment at the festival, although Brown’s “red-shirted” participants did enter festival grounds and spoke at length with several Pride festival attendees.
About 30 volunteers signed up to help with Pride Charlotte’s Partners in Peace, who help to diffuse confrontational situations and keep both Pride attendees and protesters safe and out of trouble.
Smith said events in the week prior to the festival were also a success, including the “Sitting Pretty” art exhibit and auction fundraiser.
“We had a great turn out,” he said.
The Voices of Pride Choral Concert, originally scheduled for the evening before the festival, was canceled, but will be rescheduled.
“If we postpone the event we can have a better turn out and it will help with our concept of ‘Pride 365’ — having Pride events all year round instead of one week each year,” Smith explained.
One Voice Chorus, Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte and the choir at MCC Charlotte are already signed on to participate. Smith said the Pride committee will be reaching out to others, including Myers Park Baptist’s choir and Unity Fellowship Church.
On the evening of the Saturday festival, the Lesbian & Gay Community Center hosted its “Detour” party. Billed as a dance alternative with “pure music, pure energy, pure fun,” the event was sober and provided a safe space for those who wanted to spend an evening free of alcohol.
DJ and organizer Chris Taylor said about 70 community members showed up to the event and more than $300 was raised for the Center. Taylor said a future “Detour” event will have a Disco and ’70s theme.