This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, viewed as the beginning of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. Pride celebrations commemorate this event and leaders like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. While Blue Ridge Pride is celebrated in September in Asheville, the organization is creating a virtual LGBTQ center to connect rural communities to resources.
Blue Ridge Public Radio's Elena Rivera spoke with Blue Ridge Pride executive director Tina White on the initiative and the impact of pride celebrations in Western North Carolina.
Elena Rivera: What do you remember about your first pride?
Tina White: That's easy. My first pride was here in Asheville, and it was just a few years ago and I loved it so much. I got very involved and now I'm running it. What I experienced was just the people. We live with so much fear most of the year and this is one day where just the whole community comes out. I realized with that pride how important events are to a community, that they’re really a place where people can come together and connect and express themselves.
Rivera: Hendersonville is having its first ever pride on the 15th. Hendersonville and Asheville are kinda the only two places in this region that have pride celebrations. So what is the importance of a pride celebration in Asheville or now in Hendersonville, knowing that for some folks in their towns or cities they might actually not even have one to go to?
White: The big thing that we've launched this month at Blue Ridge Pride is a--we're doing a soft launch of the Western North Carolina virtual LGBTQ center. One of the challenges faced by rural communities is one of isolation and lots of small groups that can't get the scale to reach their audience. So we're creating a platform that we really want our community partners to own, to put their events, to put their prides out there. We're hoping that in that way we can really help people in the much smaller counties to get support. I worry a lot about how isolated and fearful people living in those communities are.
Rivera: This June is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. What is the impact or what is the continued impact of an event like that here in North Carolina?
White: This day and age it's our Stonewall. So it was in New York fifty years ago, now we're at the forefront in rural america. This is where stonewall--I don't want to say it's the only place it's happening, cities have a lot of issues too. But I think it's very relevant because we're finding that we have to step up we have to come together, all of us, every letter of the alphabet plus allies, need to step up because we're facing discrimination violence on an unprecedented scale.
Rivera: Why do you think that pride is important? Why is it still relevant?
White: I think they're incredibly relevant. I think you can design prides that are more or less relevant, and I do think maintaining the social justice component is very important to keep it relevant. I just wrote an editorial yesterday in response to the conservative reaction against the Hendersonville pride day. if religious conservatives want to end pride, there's a very simple way they can do it--stop hating, stop discriminating. Welcome us into their churches, welcome us into their communities. Pride is born of fear and desperation. You ban together when you're surrounded on all sides. If the world would just welcome us, they would find that we're celebrating everything else with them. They're the reason that it exists. It's just our very healthy response and appropriate response, coming together and recognizing our strength as a community. We live most of the time alone in our homes, isolated in our jobs, hidden, closeted. I can't think of anything more essential than to make a public show as a group and then to have the community come and join you.