South Carolina’s oldest gay rights event set a couple of milestones Saturday in the capital city: It was the first since marriage became a right for all, and a Republican legislator spoke at the festival.
Kym Hughes, 34, and Britney Nelson, 25, watched the gay pride parade at Main and Gervais streets with a greater than usual?/use sense of, well, pride.
“We’re getting married next year,” said Nelson, who is from Gilbert, a small town in the center of staunchly conservative Lexington County. “It’s the first (time) that we can legally get married.”
The narrow and controversial decision in June by the U.S. Supreme Court declaring same-sex marriage a constitutional right affected the way Nelson’s family view the couple’s marriage in September. “It kind of opened their eyes a little bit,” Hughes said. “It became a little more normal.”
Tony Snell, the former longtime president of S.C. Pride, shouted his joy from a Main Street stage. “I stand here today and can happily say, ‘I’m married in South Carolina,’” Snell said to cheers and waving rainbow banners. “I could not say that a year ago.”
Ed Greenleaf, who along with Snell was emcee at the event, introduced Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Dorchester. In brief remarks, Horne became the first Republican legislator to speak at S.C. Pride in the 26 years the event has been held, Greenleaf said.
“I want you to know that I support equality,” Horne said, reminding the crowd how South Carolinians came together after the racially motivated massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church this summer in Charleston. “We showed the world that hate won’t win in South Carolina. It’s not only an issue of race ... it’s an issue regarding hate. Hate will not win.”
Horne, a descendant of the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, made national headlines in July for her fiery speech on the floor of the S.C. House for the removal of the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.
At dusk, the crowd was estimated at more than 30,000, said Chip Wade, one of S.C. Pride’s leaders. A final count had not been tallied, he said. Last year’s total was 32,000, Wade said.
The afternoon’s parade featured a contingent from the state’s largest private employer, Michelin. Some 45 workers, largely from its Upstate facilities, marched in the event for the first time, said Herb Johnson, the company’s director of diversity.
Michelin workers last year created an LGBT group at the Upstate sites and asked to march in Saturday’s parade, Johnson said.
“It’s all about respecting all of our employees and allowing them to be themselves at work,” he said. Michelin also has employee groups advocating for veterans, African-Americans, women and Hispanics, Johnson said. Michelin employs about 9,000 workers, including some 2,000 at two Lexington County plants, said Dave Stafford, the company’s personnel director.
Thomas Watkins, 22, is a member of Gethsemane Baptist Church in Lexington. This was the third consecutive year he was among protesters at the gay pride event.
“They are expressing what they want,” said Watkins, standing with a dozen or so men holding signs that read, “Same Sex Marriage” inside a red circle with a slash across the words. Watkins said he was expressing his views, too: “I stand on the word of God.”
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.