Greensboro Pride returns this year with beer garden, kids zone
To celebrate the 14th year of Greensboro Pride, the organization is adding a beer garden and a kids’ zone for the first time since its inception. This year, the festival returns on Sunday, Sept. 15. Last year, Greensboro Pride Day was proclaimed as Sept. 15 by the City of Greensboro and Mayor Nancy Vaughan.
According to a press release, the festival starts at 11 a.m. with the National Anthem performed by Triad Pride Performing Arts choir followed by a parade of colors by the Tarheel Leather Club.
“This moving presentation is an annual must-see for Greensboro Pride attendees,” said Greensboro Pride executive Vice President and entertainment coordinator Brian Coleman in a press release.
Kayt Stewart Williamson is the co-chair of Greensboro Pride, and this will be her second year serving on the committee.
“Because of the tornado last year, we had it on a Sunday, and it was the only day that could have been rescheduled,” she explained. “It was an amazing turnout and response for it to be on Sunday. We are trying it out again, and it will be the official Greensboro Pride Day.”
Williamson said that Greensboro has always been supportive, but this will also be the second year that Downtown Greensboro, Inc.; Downtown Greensboro Residents Association and the City of Greensboro are Greensboro Pride sponsors.
Williamson reflected on her time with Greensboro Pride and said a lot has changed over the past five years. Her day job, Quest Diagnostics, sponsored Greensboro Pride five years ago, and that is how she got involved with the festival.
“I really wanted to do more, and as I was looking internally in the company, it really didn’t have the local impact that I was needing- that instant gratification I could see with my own eyes. Then the following year, I got involved with Greensboro Pride. I had never heard of it before; it was small and tight-knit. I was impressed but not very impressed [with the festival]. When I was a vendor, I was even more impressed. And when I became a board member three years ago, I realized how much goes into it, and how everything was 100% volunteers. We all have day-jobs; as we like to say we have our day job and [Greensboro Pride] is our ‘gay-job.’”
The festival has grown exponentially in the past 14 years. Williamson said it all started with about 200 people as Triad Pride in City Center Park, with barely any vendors.
“Last year we had 175 vendors, we expanded our footprint, we doubled a block in size, we had two stages, and we have exponentially grown about 20-30 % each year,” she explained. “There have been times where they have only $500 to make Pride happen. We are finally in a position where we have merchandise, where we are not sitting here struggling about how we are going to print advertising, how we are going to pay for advertising, who we are going to partner with for advertising. We are no longer there. The wealth of the Greensboro community has become this perfect small college town queer community. A lot of people who are apart of the queer community are business owners and investors, and statistics show that if you support the LGBTQ community, a city will grow.”
Williamson believes Greensboro Pride has a positive impact on Greensboro as well as the other LGBTQ nonprofits such as PFLAG, TPPA, Guilford Green Foundation and LGBTQ Center, Stonewall Sports and The Trevor Project.
“There were maybe five people that were organizing it three years ago,” she said. “We made a decision two years ago to partner with the nonprofits. Now there are about 10 people on the board of Greensboro Pride.”
“GGF is one of our biggest partners and we produce Bingo for them now,” she added. “It has been a great partnership, and I feel that it is reciprocated.”
Returning to headline and emcee the festival is Greensboro native, former Miss Gay USA and former Miss Gay USA Classic winner and pageant coach Lawanda Jackson. Also returning to help manage the stage and produce talent is Jay Blue, a local promoter and host.
“She is a great influence and a positive impact on the community, she is just a fantastic human,” Williamson said of Blue.
According to a press release, “Long-time LGBTQ advocate Janice Covington Allison will address the Greensboro Pride audience. She is a U.S. Army Veteran, a former fire chief, and worked as a NASCAR Motor Sports Safety Instructor. Allison is a former board member of ART and Triad Pride (before it became Greensboro Pride) and has received several awards for her advocacy. In 2012, she became the first transgender woman ever to represent North Carolina at the Democratic National Convention when it was held in Charlotte. She continues to play an active role in politics.”
Performers on the Blue Ridge Companies Stage at Greensboro Pride include dancers, impersonators, illusionists and singers. These include the Triad Pride Performing Arts, Lawanda Jackson, reigning Greensboro Pride Queen Heidi N Closet, reigning Greensboro Pride King Omega St. James, former Miss North Carolina USA winners Dana St. James and Ebony Addams; Indya Chantal, Carter Rayes, E.M Shaun, N.C. A&T Modeling Troupe Couture, Vylet, CaliWood, Dez Jetsib, Shonna, Shykym, Kakeboss, Lovari, Rebekah Yokeley, Demi Day, Kitty Litter, Brenda the Drag Queen, Paisley Parque, Crystal Frost, Ferra Rimmington, Amore Diamond, Teri Floyd, Flannel Weather, Giselle Cassidy Carter, UNISEX, Nytes Deville, Isis Glamorous, Betty J, Mona Loverly, Karama Dior, Deion, Jlo Jonez, Perspective the Duet, PlayBoii Red, Michael George Ross, Izzy A. Star, KiKi Diamond, Belladonna, Vyki LaRoXxX, Finn Phoenix, and hip-hop and rap artist Ed. E. Ruger, “known for his songs on award-winning TV shows The Boondocks and Breaking Bad.”
“The Greensboro Pride Festival includes something for everyone,” said Coleman in a press release. “We strive to showcase the top talent the Triad and North Carolina have to offer.”
(To get the full schedule of each performer, visit the Greensboro Pride website.)
“We are down to one stage this year, and the kids’ zone will be at the other end where the other stage was,” Williamson said when asked what is different this year at Greensboro Pride. She said since the festival is family-friendly, the beer garden will be for adults only and will be away from the kids’ zone. The new kids’ zone will have games and other activities with help from the Greensboro Children’s Museum.
Also new is that Greensboro Pride is partnering with Little Brother Brewing for the beer garden. Bombshell Brewery, an all-female-owned brewery in Holly Springs, just released its official Greensboro Pride Lager, and a portion of the proceeds will go back to Greensboro Pride.
Greensboro Pride communication director Sarah Lanse said that Greensboro Pride would be remiss if they did not include something else special to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
“What we are going to do is create a Stonewall ‘stone wall,’” Lanse explained. “People can come over to the Greensboro Pride booth throughout the day, we will have some poster cards that are designed to look like stones; you can write a message, draw a picture or something meaningful that relates to Stonewall, the LGBTQ community or anything meaningful to you, and the Guilford Green Foundation and LGBTQ Center has agreed to make an art installation out of those stones.”
Lanse said Greensboro Pride wants to make what happened 50 years ago meaningful to people today because many folks were not alive or in New York City when the riots occurred.
“Many of them who were, weren’t old enough to understand what is happening,” she said. “So this is a way to bring Stonewall to 2019. By giving everyone a chance to make a meaningful contribution to the Triad LGBTQ community, in honor of what those brave folks did for everybody 50 years ago.”
Williamson said that the TPPA would also sing songs from their Stonewall special.
Williamson said the Greensboro Pride presenting sponsor is Ralph Lauren and the official kick-off party for Pride will be at Boxcar Bar + Arcade this year. Greensboro Comicon will fall on the same day and will also be a partner of Greensboro Pride, as it will have a booth as a vendor. Unfortunately, Williamson said, there will be no speakers from Greensboro Pride available to attend the Comicon queer panel this year.
“There was something so very visually impacting to see superheroes right next to drag queens and the queer community,” she said of Comicon’s presence at Pride. “There is a lot of overlap with Comicon and that world and the queer community. A lot of times we, as people of the queer community, look to the supernatural world and find something that we identify with because we still don’t have that much representation in popular media.”
As far as a weather contingency plan goes, Williamson said there is not one in place but that a decision will be made similar to how last year’s decision was made: at the mercy of Mother Nature.
“Pride has been going on for 14 years and last year was the only year it has been rescheduled,” she said. “When and if the time comes, we will have to make that hard decision.”
Greensboro Pride week events include a Bites + Pints takeover with GGF on Sept. 11 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The new Greensboro Pride Comedy Night at the Idiot Box will be on Sept. 12, featuring Hillary Begley from the movie Dumpling and featuring Kitty Litter, Brenda the Drag Queen, Fuscia Rage, and Courtney Shafer Luppino. The show starts at 7 p.m. and tickets starting $15 can be purchased on Yapsody.com. Friday, Sept. 13, GGF will have their Green Queen Bingo at The Terrace at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex from 6 to 10 p.m. Tickets starting $15 for general admission can be purchased from GGF’s website. On Saturday, Sept. 14, the official Greensboro Pride kickoff party will be at Boxcar Bar + Arcade from 11 a.m. until 2 a.m. Boxcar will be family-friendly and feature DJ Ash Solo as well as kid-themed events such as a drag storytime, Disney drag queen sing-along, a drag race with queens on Mario Kart N64, and a drag dress-up station and face painting until 9 p.m. Then, there will be an adults-only (21 and up) party featuring performances by DJ Cohiba, Brenda the Drag Queen, Lawanda Jackson, Omega St. James and Heidi N Closet.
“They approached us and are really interested in supporting us,” Williamson said of Boxcar. “They are just amazing and supportive of all kinds of walks of life. We are excited to have them.”
“We are really excited and have a lot of new partnerships this year,” Williamson added. “We are working with not just businesses, but different groups of people this year, and are not having to solicit as much as we have in the past. When people reach out, it makes you feel really lucky that we have somehow built this brand that has integrity and people just want to support the queer community. It brings tears to my eyes to think about it compared to how hard I worked three years ago. It doesn’t feel like work anymore because the community is behind us, it is fantastic, and a good feeling.”
Williamson said that the City of Greensboro and its residents have been more than supportive and accommodating to the LGBTQ community.
“I don’t know if it was because of the reschedule last year, but we didn’t have any protestors,” Williamson said. “Every once in a while you’ll see a Facebook comment that is out of line underneath events or something like that. We do our best not to censor because you ride that fine line of what will we allow and at what point it gets ugly. You have a right in America to voice your opinion. And that goes on both sides; we do our best to make sure those comments or heated discussions are de-escalated.”
“We have so much support,” she added. “The N.C. Free Mom Hugs shows up for everything that we do, which is fantastic. Mom Hugs will be there to protect all of our patrons.”
For those that want to be allies, Williamson said that there is no “right way” to be an ally, and if you are unsure, just ask how you can be one for the queer community.
“And just remember that this space isn’t for you, it is for the people you love and support,” she said. “They are in the spotlight, and I think we forget that when we are creating a space for people who are marginalized; it is not just getting to the top of the stairs with them, it is getting to the top and stepping down for them.”
Williamson said members of the LGBTQ community in Greensboro are counterproductive if they think that allies should “look a certain way.”
“We oftentimes cut our noses off to spite our face in the queer community, and I think that is with any marginalized community. We want it to look a certain way, we want allyship to look a certain way, but not putting the focus the intention of people who want to be allies and what they are comfortable with.”
Another thing that has been rampant in the Greensboro LGBTQ community recently is the scrutiny of businesses that exploit Pride and the LGBTQ community just to make
“It is a double-edged sword,” Williamson said when asked her thoughts on using Pride as a marketing tool. “This is what we wanted; we wanted the visibility. Unfortunately, with visibilities, it has companies looking at us and saying we are not just a niche market anymore, we aren’t a select group of people anymore because it is not just us, it is our allies. And, we live in a corporate America, and capitalistic society, at the end of the day, it is a double-edged sword. What I don’t like is for businesses to profit off us and not turn around and support us. I think Taylor Swift is getting a lot of flack with the timing of when her song came out, but at the same time, GLAAD had a spike in donations. That, to me, makes it OK. If you are going to profit off us, but then turn around and make sure you are giving back, I have to be OK with that. I am not going to, again, cut my nose off to spite my own face.”
Williamson advises members of the LGBTQ community to be more approachable to maintain the support of the people.
“There is a piece of us that does need to be selective, but we need to support those who want to support us,” she said. “Evaluate the intention first, I think is my best advice. It is also perspective, that is where there is a sticky situation,” she added. “Do you perceive this company just profiting off us, or are they turning around and donating back to us, and are they overly employing queer and marginalized people?”
Williamson said Greensboro Pride is first-come-first-serve, and “if you want to work with us, we will work with you.”
She said they do offer those who worked with them in the previous year a spot the next year. If they don’t hear back after three attempts, they are not going to reach out anymore “because we have others banging at our door.”
“We want our support to stay in our community but also want to turn around and also be visible in other communities as well. We want to have a diverse array of variety, just like everyone else, and we should. Especially in Greensboro, where we see the opportunity to have that visibility and be accepted in different spaces, not every city has that space. We support everyone, and we support everyone who supports us.”
Williamson said those who are interested in becoming a Greensboro Pride committee member must complete a one-year trial period.
“You wouldn’t be making decisions, but you would voice opinions,” she said. “[The trial period is] to make sure it works for you and for the Pride board. If you step up or are proven to be reliable, you are accepted next year.”
The 2020 Greensboro Pride festival will start planning the day after this year’s festival, and Williamson said the committee wants to start getting into the habit of planning a year ahead because “that is really when Prides become successful.”
“We are just not there yet, but after this year, I feel like we could start being at that point and start planning for 2021,” she said. “Solidify talent, footprint, application for 2021, permits, book everything ahead as much as you possibly can.’
Next year, Greensboro Pride plans to have a parade, just as Pride Winston-Salem does.
Williamson said the organization is also looking to expand its bandwidth to do subcommittees and she said from those subcommittees, other entities of Pride festivities that tend to be marginalized would include Trans Pride and Black Queer Pride, “because I think those are important spaces.”
“We have tried our best and listened to feedback to try in creating spaces for trans people and people of color,” she said. “We try to be as thoughtful as possible in the diversity of entertainment, the businesses that we are working with, vendors, music being played in between sets to make sure we are being all-inclusive in the meantime… If we had more people on the board, we would probably be able to do it sooner.”
Greensboro Pride is always looking for volunteers to set up and breakdown the festival. If you are interested, visit the website at www.greensboropride.org/volunteer/ to sign up.
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.