First gay Pride event to be held Saturday
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — After what one official described as a “long and tumultuous road,” gay rights advocates on Saturday will host Salisbury’s first Pride celebration.
The city will close Fisher Street from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. to make way for food and art vendors and a large stage.
Mayor Susan Kluttz gave the event her blessing, proclaiming Saturday as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Day. Similar events across the country encourage people to take pride in their sexual orientation and gender identity.
“This is a group of people who felt discriminated against, and I’m happy that they can come together and celebrate who they are,” Kluttz said. “Diversity and understanding and appreciation are very important to me.”
A Kannapolis pastor is calling for people to protest. Salisbury police say protestors must receive a permit and will not be allowed near the gathering.
Entertainment will include singing, dancing and a keynote address by Anne Stanback, a lesbian activist originally from Salisbury.
“We have, whether we want to believe it or not, residents in the city of Salisbury and the county of Rowan who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender,” said Brandon Major, event steering committee chairman. “We need to embrace that diversity that truly exists.”
The local chapter of PFLAG — Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays — is organizing the event.
PFLAG took over the event after members say they were worried about political fallout harming the Salisbury-Rowan Human Relations Council.
Mike Clawson, PFLAG founder, first approached the Human Relations Council in 2010 about taking the event under its wing.
A member of the council himself, Clawson said he thought the Pride event fit with the council’s mission to promote diversity and would complement other events like La Fiesta de Rowan and Let’s Get Connected Day.
But controversy erupted from the start.
“This has been a long and tumultuous experience,” said Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell, who serves as the City Council liaison to the Human Relations Council.
Blackwell supports the event. She said she approached the Pride steering committee, which was operating independently of the Human Relations Council, and encouraged them to seek a private sponsor.
“We had received indirect word that the Human Relations Council would no longer be funded by the county if it were a sponsor,” Blackwell said.
In the past, the city and Rowan County have equally contributed to the Human Relations Council, giving $3,500 each.
Pride organizers withdrew their request from the Human Relations Council, Clawson said.
“We decided to alleviate stress and tension between the city and county,” he said.
Organizers never asked for public funding, Clawson said, and planned to raise money from private donations.
Clawson said he was disappointed when, on a 4-1 vote, the Rowan County Commissioners voted this spring to zero-fund the Human Relations Council, as well as the Rowan Museum and the Rowan Arts Council.
A link between the Pride event and funding for the Human Relations Council was never discussed by commissioners, said Commissioner Raymond Coltrain, who supports the event.
Commissioners Carl Ford, Chad Mitchell and Jim Sides and Jon Barber voted to zero-fund the group. Barber said he may change his mind in a later vote. Ford and Mitchell didn’t return phone calls from the Post, and Sides said he would not comment.
“I feel like they didn’t hold up their end of the deal,” Clawson said. “We pulled out, and they still pulled their funding.”
On Monday, commissioners agreed to restore $3,150 to the Human Relations Council but said the money can be used only to support the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast.
The city also has decreased its funding to the Human Relations Council to $3,150 due to budget cuts. The city makes no designation for how the group can use the money.
The Human Relations Council last year hesitated to sponsor the Pride event because it would not have had control, chairman the Rev. Whayne Hougland said.
“I’m happy the event is going to take place,” Hougland said. “It’s important for the community, and for those folks whose voice has been not allowed to be heard.”
All people need the opportunity to express themselves in a way that respects their dignity, he said.
“That’s what they want,” Hougland said. “That’s all anybody wants, really.”
The Rev. Flip Benham, leader of Operation Save America in Kannapolis, is calling for a protest of the Pride event after organizers denied his Kerygma Church’s request to hand out water and Bibles at the event.
“It’s very ironic that they preach tolerance but they are not tolerant of anybody else, and especially not tolerant of the Gospel,” said Harry Edwin McCora III, who plans to protest Saturday.
Pride invited churches and nonprofits to buy booth space but “has taken it upon itself to be the ultimate censor of churches with whom it might disagree,” Benham said on his website.
“The values and mission of this celebration and those of your organization are quite diverging,” Pride organizers said when they declined Benham’s offer to be a vendor.
Benham protested repeatedly against Rowan-Salisbury Schools when students tried to form gay-straight alliance groups.
Organizers said they’ve also declined a vendor request from Truth Temple Church in Kannapolis.
The controversial nature of the event hasn’t scared away sponsors, including Food Lion, Pepsico and Rowan Regional Medical Center.
The community needs an event like Pride, Major said.
“People of all sexual orientations are here, and we need to publicly acknowledge and create space where they can bring their whole selves — space and freedom to express who they are,” he said.
Pride also will increase awareness and help educate people about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, he said.
“That is so critical these days,” Major said, especially in light of increased bullying in schools and online.
Salisbury is one of 14 city and county governments in North Carolina with a non-discrimination policy or ordinance including sexual orientation.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.
Want to go?
What: Salisbury Pride Celebration.
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
Where: 100 block of East Fisher Street.
Theme: “Our City, One Goal, Equality For All”
• Foster support and development of community groups.
• Promote human and civil rights.
• Work against prejudice and discrimination.
• Create opportunities for promoting visibility for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents and integrating them into the community.
• Promote harmony among the community.
• Foster economic growth.