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After months of protest, Sylva ‘March’ group drops push for parade at Pride

We Will March first marched in April 2024.
Lilly Knoepp
We Will March first marched in April 2024.

The “We Will March” group – formed in March in response to Sylva Town Council not supporting LGBTQ Pride organizers’ parade street closure request – says they won't take to the streets.

In March, Sylva Town Council voted not to support a permit to close Main Street for the annual September LGBTQ parade. A group of community members formed a group called We Will March with the promise to march in a Pride parade regardless of the town’s decision.

We Will March announced on Monday evening that it was “closing.”

“We came together as We Will March to help the community, and that commitment remains. We refuse to let the town create fractures, and so we are closing We Will March to focus on ways we can continue the work in a more unifying way, for all of us,” the group said in a statement.

The statement calls out Sylva Mayor Johnny Phillips claiming that Phillips “vowed to cancel the official Sylva Pride event next year if we march.”

“It’s a very old strategy to divide the community, make us attack each other, and police each other so that they don’t have to do it themselves,” the group’s statement said.

The group is referring to a comment from Phillips, made to the Sylva Herald at the end of May, when asked about We Will March’s pledge to hold a Pride parade.

“If they violate the law, it’s for law enforcement to handle,” Phillips told the Herald. “If they violate the rules, then the town will have to deal with that appropriately next year.”

The article continued, “The town could deny a 2025 Pride application to use Bridge Park, he said.”

Phillips was not immediately available when BPR reached out for his comment on the group’s statement.

Under N.C. Department of Transportation event road closure guidelines, a municipality can sponsor a group or activity to bypass formal state approvals to close state-maintained roads. In Sylva, town leaders said previously that accommodating road closures for large events puts an extra burden on public safety staff. While the town has previously supported Pride parades and other event road closures, officials say they’re pulling back.

The Jackson County community has been divided on how to deal with the vote against the parade.

In April, Sylva Pride announced that it would not be re-applying for a parade permit. The group has announced a storefront decoration contest and a local business evening as another way to bring the Pride festival to Main Street in Sylva.

“Out on the Town” will be September 14 from 5 to 8 p.m. and “Chalk the Walk” contest submissions are due the same night.

A number of We Will March members sent the Sylva Town Board the resolution to proclaim June local LGBTQ+ Pride month. The resolution was updated by town employees before it was voted on by the town board. Sylva Herald reported that the most notable change to the resolution was the removal of a line encouraging all community members to participate in Pride events.

This week, We Will March celebrated this victory in its statement and thanked the community for their support.

“Thank you to everyone for their participation in all the work we have done. Our successes are because we came together. Let’s keep coming together in solidarity because, together, we cannot be defeated,” reads the statement.

Pride events in Sylva are scheduled for September 13 to 15, with Sunday’s festival being held at Bridge Park.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.