by Jamie Dean and Angie Vineyard
CHARLOTTE, NC (AgapePress) – A public park in uptown Charlotte became a gathering place and a sounding board for the region’s homosexual community Saturday, May 5. The park was the site of the first annual Charlotte Pride festival an event designed to promote the visibility of the homosexual community in Charlotte.
Festival organizers proclaimed that this was a day for the homosexual community to celebrate their identity. A quick walk through the park offered a telling glimpse into that celebrated identity. Homosexual couples walking hand in hand perused booths set up throughout the small park. Local vendors sold everything from food and drinks to beanie babies and jewelry. G&L Internet Bank, a corporate sponsor of the event, set up checking accounts for interested customers.
But also in plain view were booths much less innocuous. One vendor sold teddy bears brandishing whips and sporting bondage style outfits. Another vendor sold similar gear for people. Perhaps most startling was a booth with a sign visible from the street reading “Hot Naked Men.” The walls of that booth were lined with photos of winners of homosexual beauty pageants and covers of homosexual magazines. Many of the photos were shots of fully naked men photos fully and clearly visible to any passerby in the public park.
And timed to coincide with the Charlotte Pride convention was a leather/S&M convention held at the Airport Sheraton, featuring a “ball” which required participants to wear leather “formal wear.”
Despite these disturbing public displays, the Charlotte Pride festival had the stamp of approval from several city leaders, including Republican Mayor Pat McCrory. McCrory wrote a short letter that was included in the festival guide welcoming participants to Charlotte. The mayor encouraged attendees to take advantage of attractions in the city and said, “I am happy that you chose our beautiful city to host the Charlotte Pride Celebration.”
Charlotte City Council member Sara Spencer was on hand Saturday morning to personally welcome the festival to town. Spencer told the crowd, “I want to welcome you to Charlotte and to this great event. I think it’s a splendid idea for communities to celebrate and gather to take advantage of the amenities of the city.” Spencer went on to offer a brief history of Charlotte and slip in a plug for the upcoming arena referendum. She concluded her brief remarks by stating, “We are a city that prides ourselves on partnerships and working together. I’m so glad to have you here and to have your event here in Charlotte, a hopefully progressive New South city.”
But not all local leaders were as pleased as Spencer and McCrory. County Commissioner Bill James expressed his disapproval, specifically of the mayor’s endorsement of the event. James pointed out that homosexual sex is a felony in North Carolina and asserted, “Government officials ought not to be endorsing that which is illegal.” James insisted that he is not opposed to the group lawfully assembling, saying, “I’m not interested in banning First Amendment rights. I am opposed to the government endorsing illegal behavior.”
James said he was surprised by the mayor’s public approval of Charlotte Pride. He said that when he and McCrory ran for City Council in 1993, McCrory publicly agreed with James’ position on homosexuality. James stated, “We were both saying the same thing. Homosexuality is wrong. Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexuality should not be endorsed by the government.” James contended that by welcoming the festival to the city, the mayor “aided and abetted a cause he claims he doesn’t support.” The mayor was out of the country and unavailable for comment.
James conceded that some city leaders probably approved of the event because of economics. The event brought a number of people from out of town people some city leaders hoped would spend money in Charlotte. But James asserted, “If economics is the only reason to do something, we might as well forget about morality. This is about morals; not economics.”
Among those businesses that offered corporate sponsorship for Charlotte Pride was Wedgewood Baptist Church, pastored by Chris Ayers, who says he seeks to “affirm people who are lesbian or gay.”
“I don't believe that people choose to be homosexuals. I believe they're born that way,” said Ayers, who doesn't believe homosexuality is a sin.
Most of the sponsorships of the Charlotte Pride weekend were normal corporate sponsorships. U.S. Airways offered Pride participants between 5 and 10 percent discount on airfare, and the Adam's Mark Hotel booked 152 rooms for the weekend at a 22% discount. Ayers said that a few members of Wedgewood chose to become a bronze sponsor of the Pride weekend, which totaled $100. Wedgewood was the only church on the sponsor list.
(This update courtesy of Agape Press.)