Charlotte Pride has officially become the city’s largest annual parade, with 152 entrants and 4,500 marchers registered to show up Sunday afternoon in uptown.
That is roughly 1,000 more participants than the parade had last year, when it also set record crowds and participation.
Organizers even said they were surprised at the numbers tallied this week, given the parade had been defunct for years and only restarted in 2013. It’s now larger than the city’s granddaddy of parades, the Thanksgiving Day Parade, which was founded in 1947. It had 120 entrants last year.
Matt Comer, spokesman for Charlotte Pride, credited the jump in participation to the current political atmosphere, including the passage of a House Bill 2 compromise in North Carolina that many believe is a setback for gay rights. The compromise repealed the anti-gay law HB2, but put a moratorium on cities and counties passing gay rights ordinances until December 2020.
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“People are fired up and there’s a lot of momentum,” Comer said. “Basically, Charlotte’s gay community has seen a lot of challenges in the past few years...and I think people in the community want to come out and show that they will not allow oppression to stand.”
Charlotte Pride, which includes both a festival and a parade, is expected to draw 130,000 on Saturday and Sunday. The festival will fill much of South Tryon Street on Saturday, including live performances starting at 12:30 p.m.
Backers of the parade include many of the region’s largest employers, as well as Charlotte Center City Partners, the Chamber of Commerce and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.
Last year’s parade and festival had a $7.2 million economic impact on the city and drew 9,000 people from out of town, said Mike Butts with the visitors authority.
Charlotte’s annual LGBT festival started about 17 years, though sites have changed and the parade was defunct for much of that time. The event moved to South Tryon Street for the first time in 2011 and attracted 25,000 people. In 2013, it was expanded to two days, and the parade was revived, resulting in 80,000 attendees.
Charlotte Pride 2017 comes at a precarious time for the LGBT community, which appears to be losing rights won under President Barack Obama’s administration. This includes the right for transgender people to serve in the military and the right for transgender students in public schools to use the restroom of their gender identity.
Among those participating in the parade Sunday is a Charlotte transgender high school student who is being honored by Charlotte Pride for his LGBT activism.
Vinnie Holt, 15, is a student at Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte and was among the LGBT youths impacted by House Bill 2.
At the heart of the HB2 battle was an argument over the right of transgender people to use the restroom of their choice.
Holt said he was told he could not use the men’s restroom at his high school last year. In the end, Holt said he had to get his gender officially changed on school records before he could use the campus men’s room.
“I wasn’t angry. It was more frustration and sadness,” he said. “And I didn’t try to argue. I mostly just wanted to find out exactly what the policy was. There was nothing in writing and nothing to say what you can and can’t do. And no one would issue any sort of statement.”
Holt, who works with the LGBT support agency Time Out Youth, said Charlotte Pride remains a special event for him, because it was the first place he came out as transgender. That was three years ago.
Even his parents didn’t know, he said.
“When I came out to my best friend, it was so nerve wracking, but she was actually proud of me,” he said. “Now, here I am getting this award. It feels like everything is coming full circle.”
Charlotte Pride Parade
Charlotte Pride’s annual parade begins at 1 p.m. Sunday at 9th and Tryon Streets. The parade turns east on Trade Street and disperses on College Street. Staging for the parade will close Tryon Street between 9th and 11th streets and the cross streets between Church Street and College Street at 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For details, visit charlottepride.org.