Blue Ridge Pride traces its roots back to 2009, when the community banded together to hold its first festival on a public space in Martin Luther King Park. For the next ten years, the organization focused on two annual events: the Blue Ridge Pride Festival and the Miss Blue Ridge Pride Pageant. In 2018, the board voted to expand our mission, programs and geographic reach.
While the festival remains core to our mission, we have expanded into many new types of events. Public events play a crucial role in society. They can unite or segregate. They can foster confrontation or encourage reconciliation. We believe that, as the world grows smaller, it is critical that we learn to share space together gracefully. We seek to create shared spaces that are welcoming to all. We seek to foster dialogues that are honest and challenging, but respectful and constructive. It’s a fine line to walk, but we believe that it is worth the effort.
- Blue Ridge Pride Festival – Our annual, family-friendly fall celebration of WNC’s LGBTQ community and our wonderful allies. It attracts 14,000 to 18,000 people.
- Welcoming WNC Procession – A parade of people rather than floats. We walk to give voice and visibility to all who aspire to a western North Carolina that is welcoming and equitable to all.
- Blue Ridge Pride Pageant – Showcases people who explore and express gendered identity in all its wonderful forms.
- Event Partnerships and Collaborations – We work with other events, organizations, and communities in an effort to break down needless barriers. Before COVID hit, we partnered with a local team that brought us a 4-part movies and mixer series. We also work to support local prides and events that support allied communities, such as Juneteenth, Black Wall Street, and Hola Carolina.
WNC Pride Portal
A portal supported by community content for WNC and adjacent communities. Our goal is to keep this resource free to the community. We want groups and non-profit service providers to be able to post their information without worrying about cost.
- Calendar – A searchable calendar of events, meetings, seminars, and entertainment that target and/or welcome our community;
- Directories – Directories of welcoming service providers, support groups, social groups, employers, and organizations;
- News –Local news of interest t the LGBTQ+ community.
We seek to make it easier for the LGBTQ+ community in and around Western North Carolina to find welcoming resources. Though still in our pilot phase, we have published over 450 welcoming events and 100+ news posts. We have built a directory that includes over 50 welcoming social and support groups and over 100 welcoming businesses, churches, and community services.
- Community Partner Fund: In western North Carolina, we are blessed by many local organizations and groups that want to support and welcome our community. Unfortunately, their tiny scale and rural isolation can make it difficult for them to raise funds and for willing donors to find them. We established the Blue Ridge Pride Community Partner Fund to address this need. All monies donated to this fund are set aside for local groups that demonstrably support western North Carolina’s LGBTQ and allied communities. In 2019, we launched the Blue Ridge Pride Community Partnership Fund. All funds are set aside for local groups that demonstrably support western North Carolina’s LGBTQ and allied communities In our first year, we gave out $7,500 in grants. The goal of the fund is threefold:
- Make it easy for qualifying organizations – especially small ones – to apply for financial support.
- Make it easy for local donors to support a greater variety of local groups and services.
- Create a sense of shared community and a greater awareness of all the groups that support it.
We maintain a public posting of grants awarded. We are starting small, but we hope to see this program grow considerably. Local organizations have found creative ways to support this program. Green Man Brewery committed all profits from one of its brands, LUV ALL, to the fund. The Aloft Asheville Downtown and Fine Arts Theatre collaborated to support the fund through the Movie and Mixer Series. This is the sort of coming together that we dream of. In the first five months of 2022, we issued eight grants for a total of $4,500. Grantees include established organizations such as Loving Food Resources, WNCAP, Manna Foodbank, and Youth OUTright. We provided funds to four local art and theatre projects that share the story of the LGBTQ community. We also funded a scholarship for someone seeking EDI certification from Lenoir Rhyne’s Equity Diversity & Inclusion Institute.
- Community Service Partnerships: We seek to partner with local community service providers to amplify their reach and impact. For example, we are working with a local care provider to educate and recruit foster parents who are willing to take in LGBTQ+ youth. Our team has also begun to collaborate with allied groups, such as Black Wall Street and Equity Over Everything. We have conducted workshops with emerging black entrepreneurs to discuss how best to reach the LGBTQ market.
Generation Plus (GP) seeks to enrich the lives of LGBTQIA+ and allied community adults in Western North Carolina who are living life’s third act: the years beyond fifty. Aging in rural LGBTQIA+ communities pose unique opportunities and challenges. GP seeks to leverage the power of community by connecting community members and area service partners. Since June of 2021, the Generation Plus team has launched several programs to connect and inform the community.
- Community Events: GPlus has brought three virtual event series to the community: Rainbow Inspiration Series (2,147 unique views); Pride Time and Coffee & EqualiTEA Time (180 participants). A summer picnic and fall prom are planned later this year.
- Elder Abuse Awareness: Distributed materials to over 800 individuals and to participants in Buncombe County’s Active Aging Initiative.
- Outreach: Produced over 250 social media posts on breaking news and community events; five in-depth posts on the organization’s website.
- Education: One of our leaders has gained certification to deliver the Pride in Care diversity training program to Nursing homes, Active Aging centers, and doctors’ offices. Plans are underway to expand this program in the fall of 2022.
Education, Outreach & Advocacy
- Oral History Project: The LGTBQ Oral History Archive project aims to document a richer, fuller, and more inclusive history of our region by recording the stories, memories, and artifacts of people in our community. To date, we have captured, transcribed, and coded over 100 interviews with LGBTQ+ locals and their allies. We have created a Time Capsule of archived photos, an LGBTQ+ Walking Tour of downtown Asheville, and have conducted workshops on oral history techniques. We have created a YouTube page featuring coming out videos and interviews with participants and the oral history team. Work is underway with students at UNCA to create online multimedia experiences that will bring viewers even closer to our community.
- Advocacy: In 2022, we partnered with other organizations to secure passage of non-discrimination ordinances in Buncombe County and Asheville.
Business Alliance Project & LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce
We believe that the LGBTQ+ and business communities are very important to one another’s success. In the past year, we reached an agreement with the newly formed Carolinas LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce to serve as their WNC representative and appointed a new program director, Allison Fender. Our goal in 2022 is to capture 500 welcoming businesses in our directory.