“We got a repeat customer!” calls out Macaria Rage, the emcee who wore a turquoise gown covered in rhinestones. She holds the hand of a teenage audience member who says into the microphone that this is her second Pride event.
“It’s all about word of mouth. It’s all about pride and the community, whether you are gay, whether you are bi, straight, transsexual… It doesn’t matter, honey. At the end of the day, we’re all red on the inside, because we’re human beings and we’re alive and we are all family,” said Rage.
This past Saturday, October 17, Winston-Salem Pride had its annual festival and parade downtown complete with live music, food trucks, a dance floor and lots of sequins.
The theme was “We are family,” explained Winston-Salem Pride president Brent Morin.
The day began with a parade on Trade Street that wrapped around Fifth Street and finished on Cherry Street. The rest of the day was dedicated to the festival. On one end of Trade Street, near the 7th Street intersection, the Peace Out Vapes-sponsored Main Stage saw dramatic performers throughout the day and hosted Debby Holiday as its main event. The other end of the street, near 5th Street, also had a stage for local performers, several of whom were teenagers and young adults. Local businesses and international companies and organizations lined the street with tents distributing food, shirts and the signature rainbow flags or information supporting their various causes.
“We’ve been popping corn for 13 years, but this is our first time here,” said Yvonne Michel, who ran a tent with her partner selling kettle corn. Michel and her partner usually sell their kettle corn at the farmers’ market on Sandy Ridge Road. They were approached by one of the festival’s coordinators to come to the event.
“I expected a big crowd like this,” Michel said. “It’s a nice crowd.”
According to Morin, roughly 15,000 people attended the festival and parade this year. There were a handful of protestors, but the day ended peacefully.
“A success? Absolutely,” Morin said. “We have seen exponential growth from year to year… This year, the execution was phenomenal. It was the best Pride ever.”
Morin was organizing rallies for equality before he was asked to join Winston-Salem Pride, which is a fully volunteer-run non-profit. Soon after joining, he became vice-president and then president as of last year. Morin and the Pride Board of Directors work around Forsyth County to “promote equality and promote LGBTQ efforts and bring other organizations together,” he said.
While the festival and parade were a success, Morin says that “the fight isn’t over.” Morin mentioned a phone call he recently received from a boy in Greensboro who came out to his family and was subsequently kicked out. Morin also referred to the legal challenges LGBTQ persons face in North Carolina including outright discrimination and the possibility of being legally fired by employers because they are LGBTQ.
“Having many large companies here helps,” said Morin. Several of these include BB&T, Pepsico, Food Lion and Bank of America. According to Morin, having these companies represented “sends a message that they are behind us.” In total, the event had about 28 sponsors.
Many of the stores along Trade Street opened their doors and set up signs showing their support for the event. One was the Rusty Bumper, which was just opened last year.
“We definitely support it,” said employee Catheryn Bethel. “Pride is great.”
Her coworker and first-time festival and parade-attendee Ellie Jones agreed. “There is a lot of love out there.”