Hendersonville holds its first-ever Pride celebration Sat., June 15. While Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk supports the event, members of City Council and some religious groups oppose it.
Laura Bannister is one of the organizers of Hendersonville Pride. She originally wanted a parade down Main Street, but ran into complications when discussing this idea with police officers in town. “No, no, no. The police said no,” said Bannister. “[They said] you will interfere with all our commerce downtown. The parking would be horrible.”
Hendersonville chief of police Herbert Blake said a parade would be “difficult.” “We don’t like shutting down Main Street,” said Blake.
Bannister eventually landed on a picnic in the park with free food and community speakers commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The riots were a demonstration by queer activists against a police raid on Stonewall Inn, an LGBTQ bar in New York City. The riots are often considered the start of the modern LGBTQ rights movement.
In support of the event, Hendersonville’s mayor Barbara Volk issued a mayoral proclamation designating June 15 as a celebration of LGBTQ folks in the community.
City Council members did not agree with the proclamation and the mayor using her platform to make political declarations on behalf of the city. During a City Council meeting last week, both supporters and opposition groups voiced their opinions about the proclamation.
Bannister said the blowback doesn’t concern her. “It’s too late. We’re here,” said Bannister. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Bannister moved from Washington, D.C. to Henderson County a little over three years ago. Her first Pride in 1991 was in memory of a friend. “A good friend of mine had just died with his head on my shoulders,” said Bannister. “He died of AIDS. The reason I got involved in the first Pride was because I wanted to open an HIV and AIDS clinic in Northern Virginia, where I lived.”
For Bannister, Hendersonville’s Pride is about community and connection. “I hope it’s an opportunity for people who aren’t normally out of the closet to come out and make new friends,” she said. “Next year maybe we’ll have that parade. Maybe a kid will be able to talk to their parents more openly about their feelings. That’s what I really hope. Let’s start the discussion. Open the conversation.”
Seeing the example set by Blue Ridge Pride in Asheville encouraged Bannister and other organizers to create the event in Hendersonville. Bannister said she hopes more towns in Western North Carolina follow suit. “Maybe it’ll spread,” said Bannister. “People will approach their mayors and their city councils and try to set the wheels in motion so there will be Pride celebrations in their towns, too.”
Hendersonville’s Pride celebration starts Saturday at 12 p.m. at the Patton Park Pavilion.