Christina Woodruff of Huntersville is only 10 years old, but she learned a very grown-up lesson about bigotry this weekend at the Charlotte Pride Festival and Parade in uptown.
“I was just standing there and a man told me that I was a child of the Devil,” said Christina, who is parented by a same sex couple. “I wanted to punch him, but my mom stopped me. I cried instead.”
Conservative religious groups have long provided sideline heckling at Charlotte’s annual gay pride celebration, including a group this year that tried to drown out Mayor Jennifer Roberts during the opening ceremony Saturday.
But things were different this year, thanks in part to growing mainstream opposition to N.C. General Assembly’s House Bill 2, a law that nullified a Charlotte nondiscrimination ordinance that extended protections to LGBT residents. Conservative Christian groups still showed up to protest, but their message was overwhelmed by a record number of faith groups that came out in opposition of HB2.
Churches made up more than 10 percent of the 135 contingents in the parade this year, compared to one church that marched in the first parade back in 1994. Some even came with their choirs, driving up parade participation from 2,500 last year to 3,300 this year. Crowds watching the parade were five and six deep in the blocks north of Trade and Tryon streets.
Christina Woodruff attended as a member of Missiongathering Charlotte, which is among the congregations that joined in this year for the first time. The church’s float featured nationally known Christian singer Trey Pearson, who shocked the music industry in June by coming out as gay.
“To those preachers out there screaming the insults, we love you, but stop it,” said Steve Knight of Missiongathering Charlotte.
“Those street preachers screaming hate get so much attention from the media, but there are more churches out here showing their support for LGBT people. You don’t hear enough about us, and we outnumber them.”
Caldwell Presbyterian Church also had a float, built to look like Noah’s Ark. This was the congregation’s fourth year in the parade, said church member Lisa Raymaker.
“You can’t help but notice more and more churches showing up every year,” Raymaker said. “What I really like is that the parade puts us all together, which is a powerful statement. LGBT people are so often ostracized by organized religion, and we see ourselves as standing in the gap.”
Dave Webb is with the Charlotte Pride parade committee and he says the increased presence of religious groups reflects what has been a common denominator in all of the nation’s civil rights battles: Faith groups took the lead in the fight.
Twenty-five different religious communities participated on Aug. 9 when Charlotte Pride held an interfaith service, from Buddhists to Baptists.
“Religious leaders have always been at the forefront, standing up for equality, whether it’s speaking before a city council or demonstrating in Raleigh. They have always been strongest advocates,” said Webb. “If you look at the diversity of organizations involved with Charlotte Pride, there’s a far greater diversity of religions for LGBT equality than there is against it.”
Preacher Buddy Fisher doesn’t see it that way. He and a half dozen followers were the ones that tried to drown out Roberts on Saturday. On Sunday they stood alongside the parade at Seventh and Tryon streets, screaming insults. They carried signs, too, that said things such as “Homosexuality is demonic. Your party will end in flames.”
Fisher has nothing but praise for Gov. Pat McCrory for standing his ground on HB2, despite international condemnation of the law. The state has suffered tens of millions of dollars in lost profits over HB2 because of boycotts, canceled events and businesses that chose to put down roots elsewhere.
“We are a group of street preachers who show up at all big events where sinners can be found,” Fisher said. “This is big event, and it has a lot of homosexuals.”
Jammed in between Fisher and other members of his group was Chung Groar, who tried to drown out their cat calls by yelling things such as “Love is the answer,” “We can overcome hate” and “Love is the strongest word on the battlefield.”
They referred to him as a “faggot,” but Groar refused to move.
“This is a dying generation beside me,” Groar said. “These are the same people who were out protesting interracial marriage 50 years ago. They lost then and they’re going to lose now.”
Churches march for gay pride
Among the faith groups marching Charlotte’s Pride Parade this year:
- Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
- Metropolitan Community Church
- Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte
- Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Lake Norman
- St. Martin’s Episcopal Church
- St. John’s Baptist Church
- St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church
- Charlotte Faith Coalition
- Wedgewood Church
- St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
- Caldwell Presbyterian Church
- Inclusion Community
- Missiongathering Charlotte.
Also joining in were Charlotte Atheists & Agnostics and the North Carolina Piedmont Church of Wicca.