Salisbury shows its Pride: Annual festival marks huge Saturday draw

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, June 25, 2024

SALISBURY — Salisbury’s annual Pride Festival saw every color of the rainbow flying high on Saturday in Bell Tower Green.

The annual event comprises music, food, drink and entertainment into a celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people (LGBTQ). 

For Donna Odrosky, president of the Salisbury-Rowan chapter of PFLAG, the U.S.’s largest LGBTQ support organization, celebrating Pride Month is very personal.

Ordosky’s son spent his childhood living as a female, but by his early teenage years, he was aware that his feelings might not conform to heteronormative relationship dynamics. 

“My child started asking me questions about, you know, I saw two girls kissing, and I don’t know about that,” Odrosky said.

She took it in stride, aiming to be a nurturing parent and a source of guidance for her child.

“I said, ‘Well, that’s OK,'” Odrosky said. “Sometimes, girls like girls instead of boys, and you know, tried to make it seem OK to, and because I wanted them to know that I was open to talk about anything.”

At 13, Odrosky’s child confided in her that they were gay. She said her child was nervous and, at times, fearful for his safety but was able to nonetheless form a network of friends

“He was friends with a lot of gay people, LGBTQ, I shouldn’t say trans and genderqueer, just kids that weren’t sure,” Odrosky said. 

When her son was in college, Odrosky asked him if he wanted to be a male.

“He always dressed very masculine,” Odrosky said. 

While in school at Appalachian State University in Boone, Ordosky’s son decided to change his name and officially identify as transgender. 

“So, we, as parents, we struggle, you know, gotta use the right name, we got to use the right pronouns,” Odrosky said.

For her, and for other parents and loved ones, being mindful of those seemingly small elements of a person’s life can have a big impact. 

“It validates your child, and it tells them they’re OK,” Odrosky said. “They’re normal. They’re an individual, and that’s OK. They can be who they want to be. It’s not up to us to make their plans for the future. And that’s important; it’s really important for them to be empowered.”

The Ordoskys loved their son and wanted to support him, but that support did not come without challenges. She indicated that it took some time to process and that reaching out to PFLAG really helped. 

“That is what PFLAG has always stood for, loving your child, loving your family members, supporting your community and people that need it, advocating for those who are LGBTQ, and also to educate the community,” Odrosky said.

Odrosky said that in her eyes, supporting the LGBTQ+ community is not only permitted by the church but, based on biblical teachings, demanded of it.

“That’s my upbringing, which is that you love one another no matter what,” Odrosky said. “You love your neighbor, and you do unto others as you would have done to you.”

Odrosky encouraged any parents or loved ones of people either transitioning or coming to grips with their sexuality to seek support from groups like PFLAG.

“We’re here for you to help you,” Odrosky said. “We’ve got a lot of information, a lot of resources.”

Odrosky made it clear that PFLAG also advocates for LGBTQ rights through legal and legislative issues. 

“We are also here to help with laws and policies in cities and states that are harmful to LGBTQ people, and especially now transgender people,” Odrosky said. “PFLAG National has just sued the state of North Carolina to get an injunction on the transgender laws.

“You know, not only is that LGBTQ person a voter, but their family and extended family are, too, so it’s important.”


Hardly a drag…

One of the main features at the Pride Festival was the long list of drag performers who took to the Bell Tower Green’s main stage. 

Pat Patterson, known more widely as Patti O’Furniture, was one of those performers. O’Furniture’s Instagram page (@allaboutpatti) describes the performer as “the campy comedy queen of the Carolinas.”

Like many of the other performers, Patterson engaged the audience in dancing and singing. 

“I was having a great time,” Patterson said. “And one of the things I love about performing is looking out and seeing the smiles on other people’s faces. Because I know that in that moment, I’ve made somebody happy. I’ve helped them take their mind off of their troubles or whatever’s going on in the world. And that’s what I love about performing is making other people feel better.”

October of this year will mark 25 years of performances for Patterson. His pseudonym was born of a dare. 

“I’m a college theater professor, and my students wanted to put on a drag show,” Patterson said. “They needed help raising money. My students were having some trouble getting motivated to raise money to put on the show. So I said,’ You raise the money. I’ll host the show.'”

The students raised the money by the following week. 

“At that point, I panicked because I didn’t have any costumes,” Patterson said. “Luckily, I’ve always been involved in community theater, and in college, I did my undergraduate at Wofford College.”

Patterson called up a theater director at Wofford about borrowing a costume. 

“So outfits that were actually worn by friends of mine in college became my first drag costume,” Patterson said.

The performer has come a long way since then. 

I went from wearing hand-me-downs and borrowed stuff to what I wore today,” Patterson said. It’s all custom made for me by my costume designer, and we collaborate on ideas.”

What began as a dare has transformed into a full-time professional pursuit. 

“I have an average of four shows a week,” Patterson said. 

Patterson has a regular residency in Charleston and then travels around the country. This month alone, Patterson has been to Baltimore, Palm Springs, California and Salisbury.

While the size of the Salisbury Pride Festival first came unexpectedly to Patterson, the performer is never disappointed when it comes to town. 

“The first year, it surprised me,” Patterson said. “Because I’d never been to Salisbury, I didn’t know what to expect. And what I found was one of the most welcoming and happy communities … I just fell in love with this little town. And whenever Jamie Monroe, (entertainment coordinator) calls me, I say yes, I will be there. For me, it’s like a family reunion. It’s like coming to drag queen summer camp.”

Patterson acknowledged that drag performances are not always well received.

“I know that there are people in the world who don’t agree with drag or feel that it might have a negative influence, and I don’t pay those people attention,” Patterson said. “They’re entitled to their opinion. 

“Instead, I focus on the young kids who’ve been coming up today in the festival. They think that I’m a fairy princess; they think that I’m like a Disneyland character who’s dressed in a fun costume. They just see happiness; they just see joy. And that’s what it’s all about.”