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Charlotte Gay Pride Festival Has Record Turnout

Charlotte held its annual gay pride festival over the weekend, and organizers say it was the biggest one in the city's history. They say about 45,000 people turned out. The passage of a state amendment banning gay marriage was on the minds of many there.

The Pride Charlotte Festival has grown into a huge event that takes over a few blocks of South Tryon Street for the whole weekend.

"I want to welcome you to day two - day two - of Pride Charlotte 2012," a local drag queen named Roxy said on one of the main stages to get the party going again Sunday.

There were concerts where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bands played, and street vendors selling everything from children's books to rainbow-colored scarves to, of course, alcohol.

But the festival was more than just a party.

"Hi, would you like to sign a petition supporting marriage equality?" Volunteer Danielle Chanland asked people on the street as they walked by. She and other volunteers for the Human Rights Campaign said hundreds of people signed their petitions.

Jeremy Pittman is the organization’s deputy field director. He said the passage of Amendment One a few months ago, which outlawed gay marriage in the North Carolina constitution, has been a huge motivator.

"It was a devastating loss, a very personal loss for people to know that their neighbors, family and friends voted against their basic equality," Pittman said.

That vote also changed some people’s perceptions of North Carolina. Like Tyler Murphy, who drove to the festival from Columbia.

"I always kind of considered North Carolina to be like a more accepting neighbor than South Carolina, and to see something like that is kind of disheartening," Murphy said.

But Murphy said he's noticed more energy in the gay and transgender community since Amendment One passed.

That energy is one of the reasons this year's pride festival was the biggest ever in Charlotte, said its co-chair Dave Webb.

"This was a time for people in North Carolina and the Carolinas to come out and enjoy themselves and celebrate," Webb said. "It’s not a matter of tolerance; it’s a matter of celebrating who we are."

And making a statement by sharing that celebration with thousands of others in uptown Charlotte.