September 24th 2014
A “Strong” Statement of Pride
The 25th South Carolina Pride Festival of 2014
By Diarte Jeffcoat
Photos By John A. Carlos II
Waking up on Saturday, September 20th, I did not know what to expect when I got to Main Street that morning. The hype was galore all over the media and all over the streets as Columbia and the rest of the state prepared for what would be the 25th anniversary of the SC Pride Movement. I got my colors together and headed out the door, prepping for what would come to be a long day of volunteering and celebrating self-identity, pride and happiness for many in attendance. This year was my fifth overall time attending, my third time walking in the Parade and my second time volunteering my services to the Pride Movement. I knew that I would expect a huge turnout like I have in past years.
Well, I got what I expected…and so much more!
I cannot express how much of an uplifting experience it was for me to be out there as a gay African-American male and see the masses flood the streets of Main Street in support of equality and unconditional love. Of course, many came out to see the lineup of incredible acts that we had in store that day, from acts such as She N She and local SC Pride talent to headliners such as the RuPaul’s Drag Race Stars, country singer Lorrie Morgan and Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Deborah Cox, who closed out the evening with an uplifting set that had everyone nearly going to church, screaming and jumping for joy to every beat and lyric that came from the diva. However, the entire day meant a lot more than just walking the streets to see many vendors and watching an all-day free concert. The entire day was a part of a movement, a revolution.
As stated before, this year marked 25 years since the first ever Pride Festival was held in Columbia, South Carolina. How it has grown since then! It all started years ago in 1989 when Harriet Hancock, PFLAG mom and Columbia’s own “mother of the LGBT community”, gathered up people to start the first ever march down Main Street that year. Close to 2000 people participated and even though some hid behind makeup and costumes to conceal their identity, it still started a movement that has revolutionized the community for years to come.
As I walked the streets in my “Volunteer Strong” shirt raising the green flag as a part of the color guard at the beginning of the Pride Parade, I looked into the crowds and saw not only members of my own community out there in support, but families out there in support of equality in our communities.
One misconception that I have to clarify with many that do not know about SC Pride is that it’s not just about “gay pride” as everyone wants to put it. SC Pride President Jeff March doesn’t even like to label it as such. SC Pride is about everyone, no matter who you are, showing your support and celebrating love for all. It doesn’t matter whether you are straight, gay, bi, transgendered, black, white, Asian, Latino, male, female, mentally or physically challenged, and the whole nine yards. At the end of the day, we are all human.
I remember asking a little girl after the Parade why she was out there with her parents for Pride and her words were simple: “I want to show my support in loving all people, no matter who they are.” Just repeating that and seeing that child’s face when she said that with proud innocent smile still brings a tear to my eye. It astounds me that now children are coming out with their parents enjoying the festivities just as much as the adults and showing their support for love.
That is what Pride is all about.
After the Parade, I did a little quick change-up of my Pride gear after doing some shopping and walked the streets for the rest of the evening donning rainbow colors from head to toe, even sporting a set of rainbow wings for the occasion. Let’s just say that the wings won the crowd over all day. Not only did it bring so many people that I’ve never met and those that I’ve known for years to my attention, but I got to hear the numerous stories from those that were out in celebration for the event as well.
For some, it was their first ever Pride and they were curious to see what it was all about, which I will not judge on one’s curiosity. It’s much better than to pander into one’s ignorance, in my opinion. But for many, I heard about so much more. Stories of people that were struggling through a lot with their identity or getting kicked out of their house because their parents and family could not accept their sexual orientation. Stories of physical, emotional and mental abuse towards themselves. Even stories of those supporters who had a close friend, family member or loved one go through the same bouts. These stories really touched a piece of my heart that day.
Many people I spoke to that day stated that after hearing about the hype of the event and the stories of many of the pioneers of the past and today really motivated them to step out and see what SC Pride was all about. The straight allies even stated that after they heard about these stories, especially the most recent ones that we’ve witnessed in the media over the past few years, it motivated them to come out and show their support and stand up for what is right.
They were inspired by pioneers such as Harriet Hancock, Jim Blanton, and Barbara Embick, who revolutionized the community and South Carolina today by starting the South Carolina Pride Movement. Pioneers such as Chief Crystal Moore, who went through a lot of media exposure after the mayor in her town of Latta fired her because of her “questionable” lifestyle just to have the entire town support her and stand up to the mayor in getting her reinstated. Pioneers such as Tracie Goodwin and Katie Bradacs, who filed a lawsuit against the state in order to seek an order that would recognize their 2012 marriage in Washington, D.C. as a legal marriage in the state. Hearing these stories help them to overcome the feelings of hopelessness, self guilt, lack of self worth, and even overcome suicide, which has been on the rise especially for young LGBT teenagers and young adults for the past few years now.
Since the first Pride back in 1989, the numbers have grown from the mere 2000 in attendance to now an astounding 30,000 as of this past Saturday’s festivities. As the times have moved forward and evolved, our future generations are becoming more open minded of the diversity that our community has become. No longer do we have those that fit into the “normal” community looking down at the minority of the LGBT community as second rate. No longer are the protestors overshadowing what should be a joyous occasion. No longer is the community, both straight and gay, afraid to show their faces in support of equality and free will to be who you want to be.
Going back to the wings, there was a symbolic reason why I bought and wore those wings that day. I wore the wings as a symbol of letting go of the negativity of those that strive to bring you down and make you feel worthless just because of who you are. They stood as a symbol of acceptance and happiness. They stood as a symbol of reaching for your destiny and dreams and not letting anyone tell you that you can’t do it because of who you are. The last time I checked, we all may be a part of different religions and walks of life, but we serve the same higher power that represents love for all and does not pass judgment, so no man should pass judgment to another by any means necessary.
The first time I came out to my first Pride, it changed my life and opened my eyes to acceptance and love. It continues to do just that to this day. Now I know that it has not just changed my life, but the lives of so many others to where now voices are being heard and change is being demanded from many all over. The Movement is growing strong every year and I couldn’t be any happier. Pride is about not just the rights of the LGBT community, but about the rights for all humans. No human on earth should be treated as a second-rate citizen. We must all spread our wings and do what’s right.
It only takes the support of many to make a great change. As that old saying goes: “There’s always strength in numbers”.
Thank you to Diarte Jeffcoat
For your words, and your heart.