‘Celebrate and come together’: Pride Promenade kicks off Pride Month in Chapel Hill

June 14, 2024

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By William Kleinschmidt | The Daily Tar Heel

Photo by Hannah Zinn

From sequin shirts to vibrant handheld fans to Pride flags worn as capes, a wash of color flooded the outside of the Peace and Justice Plaza on Saturday as community members came together to show their pride.

“I now pronounce it Pride Month in Chapel Hill and Carrboro,” Karen Stegman, a queer Chapel Hill council member, said to the crowd as they cheered, kicking off the third annual Pride Promenade: a celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community.

The event was hosted by the Town of Chapel Hill Division of Community Arts & Culture. Xavier Vallejo, special events coordinator for the arts division, said he had been planning the event since February.

“I would describe it as a parade/art market/dance party,” he said.

Along with Stegman, community members Zev Gordon and Celeste Jones spoke about the presence of queer elected officials in North Carolina, the connection between the autistic and LGBTQ+ communities and the fight against anti-trans legislation, respectively.

As the speeches concluded, the attendees grew loud in anticipation of the parade. The crowd took to Franklin Street, pride flags waving from lamp posts and hugging the inside of shop windows.

The Triangle Pride Band and drag queens Byanka Bangsum and Marisa Kenning led the parade. Pride flags and ribbons waved in the air as parents, children, dogs, a dancer in a unicorn costume and everyone in between made their way toward the street market.

Onlookers emerged from stores and restaurants to record and cheer for the procession. As the march concluded, participants whooped and hollered and hugged one another.

“It was joyful. It was beautiful. It’s just a collection of beautiful people, and I’m so happy to see everybody show up,” Diana Koonce, a Carolina Alumni Association staff member, said. “It matters this year more than ever.”

On Aug. 16, 2023, the N.C. General Assembly enacted laws that blocked minors from receiving gender-affirming care and limited LGBTQ+ visibility in schools, including one that prohibits transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams. For many, the parade was both a celebration and a protest.

“Being in the LGBTQIA+ community and also having trans family members, there’s just been so much persecution and anti-trans legislation,” Koonce said. “So silence, to me, equals violence. You have to show up.”

And show up, people did. Attendees crowded the street market with laughter, dance and pride as a DJ serenaded the crowd with Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and other artists who have been influential to the LGBTQ+ community. As the main event planner, Vallejo said that managing so many moving pieces wasn’t always easy, but seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces was worth the work.

“As an event planner, it’s kind of easy to get lost in the weeds and not be in the moment, and I think being over at Peace and Justice Plaza and seeing everybody there, I think that was a moment it was like, ‘wow, this is really happening,'” he said.

Vallejo worked with an advisory committee of various local organizations with an LGBTQ+ rights focus including Equality North Carolina, the UNC LGBTQ Center and El Centro Hispano. He said that their input helped shape the event into what it is today.

“The purpose of the Pride Promenade is to celebrate with community, empower folks in the community that identify as LGBTQIA+ and create a safe space for those folks and just celebrate and come together,” he said.

The Pride Promenade featured over 20 booths. From local vendors to nonprofits, the event gave attendees a taste of how pride is expressed and advocated for in Chapel Hill.

Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews occupied one of these booths. Co-owner Jaime Sanchez said he was there to give exposure to queer authors that do not typically get much attention from publishers and readers.

“We’re just trying to make sure we expose as many people as we can to amazing literature,” he said.

As the festivities carried on, the energy and volume in the plaza only continued to grow.

“You can try, but you can’t stamp us out,” Katie Randolph, an event attendee and member of the LGBTQ+ community, said. “No matter how hard you try, we’re gonna always be here and we’re always gonna fight for our rights.”

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com