Each year, we are approached by different individuals in our community with questions, requests, or demands concerning festival programming, sponsorship, and participation. The three most frequent topics of concern are:
- Exclusion: That we bar a specific exhibitor, sponsor, contractor, or entertainer from the festival. We have also received suggestions to prohibit people with offensive clothing or hairdos that appropriate other cultures.
- Timing: That we move the festival to June.
- Programming: That we add some specific programming element to the festival. Such requests include space for queer artists, more spoken word and public education, a greater emphasis on protest, a full-on pride parade with glitzy floats, more spaces that are free of alcohol.
In the interests of transparency, we address each of these below. We are not suggesting that ours is the only answer. But we feel that it is in keeping with our particular mission and our role in the community.
The Quick Answer
For those who like to skip to the end of a book, here is our general response to these three areas of concern.
- Exclusion. We rarely blackball anyone from Pride if their publicly stated purpose in attending or supporting the festival is to celebrate and connect with our community. However, inclusion does not equate to endorsement.
- Timing. We plan to continue to hold the festival in September, supporting and promoting smaller grass-roots events run by and in partnership with others in June.
- Programming. Our approach to festival programming is anchored in content co-creation. Rather than centrally manage messaging, we invite all of the partners in our diverse community to bring their own messaging and education. Where appropriate, we work to create special spaces and exhibits to enable them.
Pride and Progress: A Community Dilemma
Pride was birthed in the anger of Stonewall, an outpouring of protest by a community that was tired of being marginalized, maligned, and outlawed. Over the decades, Pride has evolved into the global phenomenon it is today: a rallying point for everyone who wants to uphold and celebrate the right of individuals to live and love according to their self-determined identity.
Part of what complicates Pride is the progress we have made. When the entire world was pitted against us, gritty, in-your-face protest was the only possible response. But what do you do when a large and growing percentage of the population supports you? What do you do when some feel integrated into the broader community while others do not?
We believe that the old binary – Pride as protest versus Pride as celebration – is outmoded. Pride means many things to many people. How to honor, build, and connect an increasingly diverse community?
Blue Ridge Pride’s Approach
Our approach to the Blue Ridge Pride Festival focuses on three things: inclusion, co-creation, and civil discourse.
- Inclusion. We hold the festival to celebrate and uphold Western North Carolina’s LGBTQ+ community. Anyone who comes with that stated purpose is welcome at the festival. We don’t apply any other litmus test except for a bias in favor of local performers, exhibitors, and vendors. We also reserve capacity to ensure strong representation by organizations focused on social justice, community service, and those that serve and represent minority populations. Inclusion does not amount to an endorsement. Visitors are encouraged to engage in civil but critical discussion with exhibitors.
- Co-Creation. We rely on our exhibitors and community partners to create most of the festival and festival week content. This is the only approach that can give voice to the diversity within our community. When, for example, a group approaches us to propose a greater focus on education, we invite them to provide that education. We also offer to help to promote and (in some cases) to help to resource their effort. We have worked with the Queer artist community to create a special space for them at the festival. This year, we are collaborating with Black Wall Street at both their festival and ours.
- Civil Discourse. Our country is lost if we cannot learn to share public space together. So many of our nation’s leaders seek to divide us into angry mobs and echo chambers. At Pride, we try to model what a day of civil discourse might look like. Is there an exhibitor you think you disapprove of? Shouting generally accomplishes nothing – except to brand yourself as intolerant and othering. Approach them. Ask questions. Share your perspective. Just like gender, civil discourse should make room for a wide spectrum of lived experiences.
EXCLUSION. Why we don’t like Litmus Tests
Litmus tests amount to institutionalized “othering”. You pick one characteristic of a person or organization and use it to dehumanize and/or exclude them.
We in the LGBTQ+ community like to point out that we cannot be contained by the labels that others apply to us. We are each the product of a complex intersection of lived experiences and personal characteristics. Our community also likes to point out that we cannot be contained by any binary.
We should hold ourselves to the same standard. We should not “other” anyone by reducing them to a single label or action. Not all police are the same. Nor are all corporations. Nor a company’s employees.
In our experience, most corporations that participate in our pride festival do so in support of their local LGBTQ employees. Those employees are thrilled to get explicit, public endorsement from their company. It means a lot to them when they return to work. Why would we exclude them?
TIMING. Why Not June?
Our current leadership team investigated moving the September event to June. We rejected it for several reasons.
- A September Pride allows smaller communities and grassroots organizations a chance to “own June”. We try to focus on promoting their events in our WNC Pride Portal Community Calendar. We also partner with them on events.
- We like to see Pride taking over the calendar year. In any given month, several cities around the world are celebrating Pride.
- In Asheville, summer is a tough time to reserve prime public spaces and to secure volunteers. In fall, students and local families are back. The weather is generally more cooperative in September.
- September is closer to the election cycle. A lot of social justice and political organizations use the festival to sign up voters and to present their viewpoints.
PROGRAMMING. Ideas and Partners are Welcome!
Beyond establishing a general, inclusive theme, we count on our partners, vendors, and exhibitors to develop programming and content for the festival. We are open to collaborations and to creating space for special exhibits. We encourage exhibitors to collaborate with one another. We even allow for-profit organizations to share their space with a 501c3 (so long as both apply).
Our chief role at the festival is to erect a miniature city that – for a day – celebrates and showcases our diverse LGBTQ+ community while welcoming all. We hope that we can set an example for others to follow.
Please Join Us
We envision a community that grows by growing together.
We understand that there are arguments for other approaches to Pride. But, in a world that is increasingly combative, polarized, and exclusionary, we seek to create an event where we can all come together for a day of Education, Advocacy, Service, and Celebration. We hope to see you there.
We especially hope to see you in our Welcoming WNC Procession. Unlike most pride parades, this has no sponsors, fees or expensive floats. It is a community walking together in support of a vision of a WNC that is welcoming to all.