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Moore County LGBTQ+ group moved on to focus on self care, expanding community ties

In the minds of many, two Moore County events are inextricably linked: the Downtown Divas drag show at the Sunrise Theater on Dec. 3, 2022 and the electric substation attacks that struck about 20 minutes into the show.

Investigators have offered no evidence that the two are connected, though plenty of public sentiment has spilled across dinner tables and social media that the attacks could have been intended to cut short the show, which they ultimately did.

Hundreds of drag show supporters and opponents had demonstrated outside the Southern Pines theater before it began but had largely dispersed by the time the power went out.

Members of the primary LBGTQ+ organization in Moore County have focused elsewhere this past year: on supporting each other and their community.

Sandhills Pride volunteers participated in the The Moore Unity Drive not long after the substations were damaged. That included, from left, Michael Edwards, Jules Latham, John Zopatti, Naomi Dix, Ethan Floyd and Andrew Stetson.
Sandhills Pride volunteers participated in the The Moore Unity Drive not long after the substations were damaged. That included, from left, Michael Edwards, Jules Latham, John Zopatti, Naomi Dix, Ethan Floyd and Andrew Stetson.

Nonprofit Sandhills Pride has spent the past year on a series of outreach programs and community care groups to help its community in the county to feel seen and heard, said Sandhills Pride Executive Director Lauren Mathers.

That has included monthly discussion and identity groups in which participants meet to make friends and share interests.

In addition, community care projects have been a chance to partner with various nonprofits and businesses throughout the year to give back to people in and around the area.

For instance, the “Moore Unity Drive” in Southern Pines just weeks after the substation sabotage raised nearly $10,000 and filled a truck with donated goods to benefit the Foodbank of Central and Eastern North Carolina and the Friend to Friend nonprofit for victims of domestic abuse.

Other activities Sandhills Pride has taken on include:

Pride Outside, which encourages hiking and other outdoor activities in different areas of the Sandhills to provide a way to meet LBGTQ+ and allied people;

Safe Zone, a program that trains individuals in understanding LBGTQ+ topics and how to be effective allies for LBGTQ+ people.

Sandhills Stories, an initiative created to carve a space where LBGTQ+ people can share their stories of culture and community online.

Attendance at these events can vary widely. One week, a close group of friends will gather on the Zoom platform to discuss identity and expression, while other events like Pride Fest can garner an attendance of upward of 200 people, Mathers said.

Lauren B. Mathers, executive director of Sandhills PRIDE.
Lauren B. Mathers, executive director of Sandhills PRIDE.

“We are constantly meeting new people and the program continues to grow with support from our partnerships in the area,” said Mathers. “This is a challenging area to be queer in.”

She noted that a major change after the Dec. 3 attacks was wider recognition in Moore County about how hot the climate had grown around LBGTQ+ visibility and issues.

“The hatred comes from the fear of the unknown and fear becomes anger,” said Mathers. “When we educate it creates understanding, which creates peace.”

McClatchy journalists collaborated with The Pilot newspaper in Moore County to report on the December 2022 power grid attacks there one year later.