Charlotte Pride 2022 draws thousands to uptown
Thousands packed into the streets of uptown Charlotte on Saturday in a burst of rainbows and color for the annual Charlotte Pride festival — the first since the COVID-19 pandemic limited large public gatherings in 2020 and 2021.
Many festival-goers said they were excited for the annual celebration to return in person after organizers held virtual pride events the last two years.
“After two years, I’m just glad everybody showed up,” said Kevin Brown, who drove from High Point in a rainbow cape and headband to attend Saturday’s festival with family. He said he hoped the 2022 festival would break previous attendance records.
Many in the crowd wore their pride best — rainbow tutus, crocheted bikinis, pride headbands, beads and stickers.
While the atmosphere was celebratory, the event came at a moment of political uncertainty for LGBTQ rights in the United States. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade and the federal right to privacy, raising fears that the right to same-sex marriage might similarly be in peril.
Transgender rights and gender-affirming care have also become recent targets in Florida, where the state’s Medicaid program finalized rules that say it will no longer pay for many gender-affirming treatments, and in Massachusetts, where the Boston Children’s Hospital was bombarded with threats after billing itself as “home to the first pediatric and adolescent transgender health program in the United States.
In Gaston County, officials also ordered the removal of a photo depicting two men kissing from the Gaston County Museum in June, and in Union County, the county library was ordered to cancel a series of pride month events, including a drag queen story hour, as reported by WSOC.
“I feel like we’re kind of going backward,” said Anna Ewing, a native Charlottean who attended Saturday’s festival with a friend. “And it’s very frustrating. There was a lot of positivity for the LGBTQ community for a long time. We were making progress, and now it kind of feels like we’re going back.”
Still, many in the crowd said the festival and parade was their chance to relax and celebrate with friends and strangers alike. Music thumped, fans clacked, and bubbles floated as the day wore on.
As in past years, some small groups of protesters gathered on the festival’s outskirts but were largely ignored by attendees.
This year’s event was also marked with a focus on vaccinating attendees for monkeypox, which has been spreading nationally in recent months, primarily among men who have sex with men.
The Mecklenburg County Health Department had set up a mobile vaccination clinic near the Hal Marshall Building on North Tryon Street away from the street festival but close to the start of the parade route for the weekend. The department planned to administer as many as 2,000 doses at no cost to attendees.
Matt Comer, a spokesman for Charlotte Pride, said interest in this year’s festival and the parade was overwhelmingly strong. Close to 200 vendors were given permits to set up at the festival, Comer said, and organizers had to turn nearly 100 other vendors away because of space limitations.
Nearly 200 organizations and roughly 10,000 individuals also planned to march in this year’s parade, Comer said.
This year’s parade would not include any law enforcement groups in accordance with a policy Charlotte Pride enacted in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by Minnesota police.
At the time, Charlotte Pride said it would ban law enforcement from marching in the parade or participating as vendors until the organization was confident that police “are committed to the meaning of Black Lives Matter and treat Black and Brown people with respect.” On Saturday, Comer said the ban remained in effect.
Many companies had large presences at Saturday’s festival, including Truist Bank, Lowe’s, Wells Fargo, McDonald’s and Geico, among others.
Comer said the realities of staging a large public event in the present day meant organizers needed corporate support, and he said many companies at the parade and festival were there at the urging of their own LGBTQ employees.
“There are also people still alive today who, when North Carolina Pride was hosted here in 1994, worked for these companies -- banks or others -- and were deathly afraid that when they marched that weekend, they would lose their job the following Monday,” Comer said. “That is a mark of progress.”
The pride festival was scheduled to continue on Sunday on South Tryon Street from 12 - 6 p.m. The Charlotte Pride Parade was scheduled to step off on North Tryon Street on Sunday at 1 p.m.