Monday, June 29, 2009

Southern (Carolina) Pride - Spartanburg's First

by ENC intern Hillary Waugh

With all of the recent media attention focusing on South Carolina’s governor, I wanted to take the opportunity to share some exciting, albeit less scandalous, news regarding our neighbors to the South. This past weekend, Spartanburg, South Carolina hosted their first Pride march. I attended the event to help conduct interviews of those present for a dissertation project (not my own) and was absolutely floored by the experience.

The march, held June 20, 2009, began at the Unitarian Universalist church, weaving through downtown, before returning to the church’s grounds for the festival, which included speakers, musicians, and vendors. Many folks I spoke with were amazed by the turnout, with an estimated 400 people participating in the march. Several participants mentioned being apprehensive to be a part of the march, saying that they were unsure about whether they would be met with violence on the part of protestors.

As far as I saw, the protestors, of whom there were an estimated 300, did not resort to physical acts to deter participants. Protestors were relegated to the sidewalks, where they held sometimes clever, often religiously-inspired signs condemning the march and LGBT individuals in general.

One of the things I found most interesting was that many of the people who organized and participated in the day’s events identify as straight allies. Throughout my conversations, a lot of them said that they did this to work toward social justice and civil rights for the LGBT community, and also because they were more able to do so without risking their livelihoods. It was an incredible show of support, and reminded me once again of the necessity for straight allies.

While the tension between participants and protestors was palpable, the day was celebratory and joyful in nature. The event itself successfully increased LGBT visibility and was a huge step for residents of South Carolina’s Upstate.

Many kudos to Upstate Pride, the group behind the march, as well as to the hundreds of LGBT and ally participants who made their presence known. Plans are already underway for next year’s march. I hope that this is just the first of many successful Pride events in Spartanburg, and that it helps to create a more inclusive climate for LGBT individuals in the region.

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