On Saturday, thousands of people – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and straight – will descend on downtown Columbia for the 24th annual S.C. Pride Parade and Festival.
The day, a culmination of an entire week of S.C. Pride activities, will kick off with a parade at noon, followed by the festival at 1 p.m. on the stretch of Main Street between Gervais and Hampton streets. Organized by the S.C. Pride Movement, it boasts a top-notch line-up of free musical acts, including electro-pop legend Berlin and “American Idol” contestant Kimberley Locke.
Since moving the festivities from Finlay Park to Main Street last year, S.C. Pride Movement president Jeff March says that attendance has improved.
“I absolutely think it has changed for the better,” said March. “We took the festival from 6,000 people in Finlay Park, to over 17,000 on Main Street. On Main Street people are a lot freer to ‘mosey on through,’ so to speak.”
The goal of Saturday’s activities is to celebrate the lives of South Carolina’s LGBT community, but March says it’s also a way to connect with others in the community. In other cities where Pride events are held, he says he’s seen enormous support from the straight population; it’s something he’s hoping to emulate in Columbia.
“We worked very hard this year with our theme being, ‘A Part, Not Apart.’ We just want to merge our lives together so that we’re not separated anymore.”
The day will get started with the Pride Parade, beginning at the corner of Main and Laurel streets and ending in front of the State House. This year, it will feature a colossal 30-by-40 foot rainbow flag. Onlookers can support S.C. Pride’s efforts by tossing dollars or loose change into the flag.
After the parade, the festival will commence with free performances at the top of each hour from 1-6 p.m.
Booked for the main stage, in front of the capitol, are Berlin featuring Terri Nunn, former “American Idol” contestant Kimberley Locke, and RuPaul’s Drag Racers Morgan McMichaels, Mariah Balenciaga and Phoenix.
Berlin is best known for the award-winning hit, “Take My Breath Away,” from the 1986 movie, “Top Gun.” This is the first time that S.C. Pride has chosen a full band to headline the festival, and March says they’re excited to have a group with such broad appeal.
The local stage, at the corner of Main and Hampton, will host performances by Miss S.C. Pride 2013 Veronica la Blank, Mr. S.C. Pride 2013 Oliver Fox, DJ Trevor D, and others.
So what should you expect if you’ve never been before?
“I don’t think it’s what people would expect our festival to be,” said March. “It’s grown so much over the years. It’s very friendly and very peaceful.”
With the increase in attendance, the event has evolved to include more family-oriented activities. That’s why the festival now offers a Family Pride space, open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. near the corner of Washington and Main streets. Hosted by Columbia’s Harriet Hancock LGBT Center, attractions in the family-friendly section include a petting zoo, camel rides, games, crafts and a bounce castle.
Admission is free, but VIP and Ultra VIP packages are available for those 21 and older who’d like extra perks such as free drinks and a chance to meet-and-greet with performers.
The fun isn’t limited to the parade and festival. As part of the Pride Week activities, there will also be a Pride in the City Pre-Party from 5-7 p.m. Friday night at the Sheraton Rooftop Bar on Main Street. After the parade, Aftermath – The Official Pride Afterparty will kickoff at 10 p.m. on the EdVenture Terrace on Gervais Street.
Ryan Wilson, executive director of S.C. Equality, believes Saturday’s events can help bring Columbians together. “It helps create a sense of one community,” said Wilson. “This is just another piece of the fabric of diversity for our city.”
March agrees. “It’s a day for the gay population to come together and celebrate who they are and hopefully have their allies celebrate as well.”