Thousands of visitors will be uptown this weekend for the annual Charlotte Pride LGBT festival and parade. Organizers say they expect to match or top last year, when 165,000 people attended the Saturday-Sunday event.
Charlotte Pride spokesman Matt Comer said the festival has grown significantly since it started. "Back in 2010 we had about 10,000 people who came to the event. Last year we had 165,000 who came to the event. I attribute that just to the growth of Charlotte," Comer said during a press conference at Trade and Tryon streets Friday morning.
Mike Butts of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority said officials expect 18,000 out of town visitors, including 12,000 staying in local hotels.
The two-day street festival runs Saturday from noon to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. on uptown streets. Events include nearly 200 vendors, music and other performances.
Sunday's parade is 1-3 p.m. Watch out for street closures all weekend. And if you're headed downtown, police suggest taking the bus or train - parking will be limited.
LGBT FIRST RESPONDERS IN PARADE
The parade will have a new contingent in the ranks - Charlotte police, fire and emergency medical officers will be marching for the first time. CMPD Major Sherie Pearsall said she expects at least a hundred public safety officers marching, in addition to those providing security.
"Because our goal is to make sure we are inclusive, both internally and externally, and this is our opportunity to do just that. Some of us are members of that community," Pearsall said.
Organizers say they aren't concerned about security. Comer said that three years ago after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Miami, Charlotte Pride began giving emergency training to volunteers. Pearsall said CMPD is always "planning for the worst," but said she couldn't give details of CMPD's plans.
"We will be hypervigilant. We've seen nothing just yet as far as any credible threats related to the event, but do trust that CMPD is monitoring," she said.
One thing on the minds of organizers and festival goers this year is the anniversary of the Stonewall riots of 1969, considered by many to be the birth of the modern LGBT rights movement.
"This is an especially important year for us, since it's the 50th anniversary of Stonewall," said Daniel Valdez, president of Charlotte Pride's board of directors. "And we know that as communities across the country strive to be more welcoming and inclusive, it's important for us to highlight and bring forth this diversity in our communities."
Charlotte Pride is every August, rather than June when many other cities hold LGBT festivals. Comer said he gets asked often why.
"You know the really simple answer, it just boils down to scheduling. We want folks in Charlotte to be able go and experience other pride events that happen in New York or San Francisco, L.A., in June. And locally here in Charlotte, it just works with all of the other summer events and festivals that happen," Comer said.
Charlotte Pride Festival & Parade website with event and street closing information, charlottepride.org