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You Belong Here: Sylva Prepares For First Pride Parade

Lilly Knoepp
Worth and Sarah LaRose pose in front of Sylva's new mural. Volunteers and the Sylva Pride Committee painted the mural.

If you drive through downtown Sylva, you might see a new mural. The mural is the opening act for the town’s first Pride parade.

On the side of an antique shop in downtown Sylva, the message on the rainbow mural now says “You Belong Here.”

“Sarah always  helps me now with my design projects these days. She has a great eye.”

That’s Worth LaRose. She’s an artist who designed the new Sylva Pride mural with her wife Sarah. Both are part of the Sylva Pride Committee that has been planning Sylva’s first Pride parade, which takes place on Saturday, September 4th.  The pair have been married for just over a month.

“The reason why we chose 'you belong here' is because first of all, it applies to anyone,” said Sarah.
“I think this mural is just a part of just trying to tell whoever visits here, wherever they come from, that this town is a town of acceptance, generally.”  

For the LaRoses, the chance to be a part of a supportive community was one of the reasons they moved to Jackson County last year from Dallas, Texas. Sarah’s family used to visit Franklin in the summers before they moving to the area.

“In a big city, you don't really have much of a connection to your community,” said Sarah. “And so you don't have as much of an impact as you can have in little towns like this, where you actually are constantly intermingling with people who might not actually share your same views.”

Although Pride celebrations usually take place in June, because of the pandemic the committee scheduled the parade for Labor Day Weekend.  The committee is made up of local leaders and community members.  

A number of local organizations will also take part in the celebration from Jackson County Health Department, The Summit and Harrah’s Cherokee Casino to grassroots groups like Tranzmission, Nudale Adantedi, WNC Aids Project and Sylva Queer Support and Education

Jen Harr grew up in Sylva. She’s a social worker and a member of the Sylva Queer Support and Education.

Credit Lilly Knoepp
Volunteers paint the new mural over the faded rainbow on Dixie Mae, a vintage market in downtown Sylva. 

“Just growing up here we didn’t really have a supportive space for queer folks and I had friends that had really rough time coming out as well,” said Harr.  

The group hopes to work with local families to provide education and support about LGBTQ+ issues.

“We just wanted to be able to provide unique program to provide support for students, families, friends and other support too,” said Harr.

Another member of the group is Katie Setzer.  She went to Smoky Mountain High School with Harr.  Setzer says her 2 and half year-old son is her reason for wanting to join the group.

“I hope that by the time he is starting to have these bigger conversations that all of these things will be place because we have already done the work here,” said Setzer, who now lives in Canton.  

The parade will run through downtown Sylva and then move to Bridge Park for educational tables, music and a family-friendly drag show.  There will also be food trucks, face painting and COVID-19 vaccines available.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Sylva Pride (@sylvapride)

Travis Rountree, an English assistant professor at Western Carolina University, is one of the lead organizers of Pride. He hopes the event will inspire young and old in Jackson County. 

“Just like the mural says, 'You belong here.'” I want that to be a feeling at Pride, not only at Pride and also a lasting feeling,” said Rountree.  "Sylva Pride is just one day right now but it is my vision to keep going with certain events in the area to make folks feel welcome and just create that sense of community and support here." 

There will also be a recording booth for those who want to participate in the Jackson County LGBTQ+ Oral History Project at Studio 505 on Mill Street and a listening booth at Bridge Park where you can hear the local oral histories already collected.

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.
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