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Location not locked in for gay pride event

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — Organizers announced Wednesday the gay pride festival will take place in a private downtown parking lot, but the property owner says no agreement has been reached.
Salisbury Pride Inc. said in a press release the event will take place June 23 at 110 S. Lee St., a parking lot owned by Wallace Properties I between Cooper’s and Bangkok Downtown.
But owner Victor Wallace told the Post he has not talked to Salisbury Pride organizers or signed an agreement. He was not aware of the date of the event or other details.
Wallace, who owns the lot with several family members, said he does not oppose having the event on his property but needs to know more about security and other logistical issues before he can draft an agreement, including the cost of a lease.
“I’m the one they need to talk to,” Wallace said.
Tamara Sheffield, event co-chairwoman, said she and Brandon Major, event chairman, had no further comment. They did not respond to a request for clarification about the location.
Organizers started looking for a new location after Salisbury Police Chief Rory Collins earlier this month denied Pride’s request for a permit to hold the event in the 100 block of East Fisher Street, where it was last year.
After learning he could not close the sidewalks this year, Collins said he was concerned about safety and his department’s ability to keep protestors separated from participants.
Last year, the event drew roughly 2,000 people and 200 protestors, according to police estimates.
Police and volunteers interrupted several heated arguments between protestors and participants, but the event was generally incident-free. One event participant was ticketed for kissing a protestor.
Instead, Pride has asked the city to close the 100 block of South Lee Street during the festival. Collins said he supports the request and soon will present the proposed street closure to City Council, a standard procedure.
The city has played a role in finding a new location for Pride.
Wallace said City Manager Doug Paris called him recently to ask if Pride could use the parking lot. Wallace said he was receptive to the proposal.
When City Council agreed in 2011 to close an old alley that ran through the middle of the parking lot, Wallace said he entered a gentleman’s agreement with the city to make the lot available for community events.
“I want to honor our agreement with the city,” Wallace said.
But he said he would need a separate, formal agreement with Pride before the event can take place.
“I don’t even know how many people they expect to attend,” he said.
Wallace said the prospect of dozens of protestors does not bother him.
Paris said he wanted to help Pride find a location that would satisfy Collins’ safety concerns.
Holding the event on private property is safer than on a public street because event organizers can set up barriers, establish one entrance, deny entry to protestors and ask people who are causing problems to leave, Paris said.
After last year’s event, Collins conducted a review to determine what police did well and how they could improve. When he consulted with the UNC School of Government, Collins said he learned that police can close a street but not a sidewalk.
During the event, Collins had banned street preachers from certain portions of the sidewalk along East Fisher Street to keep them away from the stage and largest crowds.
While the department did a good job overall, Collins said police should not have closed the sidewalk, so he denied Pride’s initial street closure request.
He said he approves of the new street closure for the safety of pedestrians outside the event.
“However, the closure will not be where the festival events are located,” he said. “That will have to remain in the private lot.”
The city often closes the 100 block of East Fisher Street, including sidewalks, for Brick Street Live. Paris said in the future, pedestrians must be allowed to use the sidewalks during any event on a public street.
Salisbury Pride said this year’s festival will include arts and crafts displays, music and entertainment, food, games for children and more. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We welcome everyone across this country to join us in Salisbury to celebrate gay pride in America and to help us focus attention and raise awareness of the need for our nation to fulfill its promise of equality for all,” Sheffield, event co-chairwoman, said in a press release.
Sheffield encouraged vendors, businesses, civic and nonprofit organizations interested in setting up booths to visit www.salisburypride.com.
Salisbury Pride will fuse “the fundamental ideas of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) pride with ideals of American pride,” she said.
The event’s theme is “Imagine, Dream, Believe — Equality for All.”
“Throughout the year, Salisbury Pride Inc. does much in the community to foster good human relations, and we are committed to bringing forward awareness, appreciation and celebration of Salisbury’s LGBTQ citizens,” said Major, event chairman. “Salisbury Pride is an expression of that commitment.”
The organization aims to create opportunities to integrate and promote visibility for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community, Major said.
Salisbury Pride also provides safe opportunities and venues for people to celebrate their sexual orientation and gender identities, he said, as well as promoting human and civil rights and working against prejudice and discrimination.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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