Since 2011, members of the LGBTQ community and supporters have filled the streets of downtown Raleigh for the Out! Raleigh Pride festival each summer.
Saturday was no exception.
Fayetteville Street was decked out in rainbows with festival attendees wearing T-shirts, hanging flags and painting their faces with the colorful symbol for LGBT pride.
The street was lined with vendors, ranging from large health care providers like WakeMed and Duke Health to grassroots organizations, like the LGBTQ Center of Durham. Other local vendors include Bruster’s Real Ice Cream, Dusty Donuts and Kathi’s Klowns, where 6-year-old Emersyn Brook got her face painted.
Two stages featured performances from local artists and bands, a comedy show, DJ sets, and drag performances.
The festival is a fundraiser for the LGBT Center of Raleigh, the city’s leading nonprofit organization focused on LGBT issues and resources, and its community programs.
The event draws in locals and out-of-towners, like Donna Hamilton of Asheboro in Randolph County, about 70 miles west of Raleigh. She said she has attended Pride festivals in Raleigh and other cities across the state since she came out in 1980.
“[Here] we can be ourselves, we can be free without the worry of discrimination,” she said. “Pride here today is exclusive to individualism. It’s a day of joy, it’s a day of happiness.”
But this year the festival took place on the heels of a Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 court ruling that established abortion as a constitutional right. With the decision, the authority on whether a person can get an abortion has shifted over to states.
“I myself am glad Roe v. Wade was overturned,” Hamilton said.
For Zoe Sinton-Covens and Marshall Mulkey, who both attended the festival for the first time this year, Pride takes on an added meaning in light of the Supreme Court decision.
Growing up, Pride represented “freedom of expression” for Sinton-Covens, and she saw events like the Out! Pride Raleigh festival as a sign of the city’s growth.
But after Friday’s ruling, in which Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the Supreme Court should also “reconsider” same-sex marriage, Pride takes on a meaning of “protest and power. I have pride in myself and my community, and I will stand up for my rights,” Sinton-Covens said. “Pride events are more important than ever to show the community that we are here, we exist, we’re not doing anything wrong, and it’s human rights at the end of the day. They can’t be taken away.”
Mulkey added that it was “awesome” to see families with children “experiencing this from such a young age” at the festival. He plans to perform at Comedy Worx Saturday evening as a part of an improv show, where a portion of the proceeds will go to the LGBTQ Center.
Imaja Chavis stood at the corner of Davie and Fayetteville streets yelling over the voices of street preachers who were proselytizing an anti-LGBTQ message.
“Don’t worry about burning in Hell. Worry about burning up in this hot sun,” yelled Chavis, of Sanford. Chavis, 18, identifies as a lesbian and use they/them pronouns. When they asked their father in 2019 if they could attend a Pride event, he told them to wait until turning 18.
“Well, here I am, 18. He probably thought I was going to become straight by then, but no. I’m here and I’m queer and they’re going to have to deal with it,” Chavis said, gesturing over their shoulder to the street preachers.
Chavis was joined by friends Easton Brewer and Ashton Lowery. Brewer, of Sanford, said it is important to show community at events like Pride because there’s “a lot of hate in the world.”
Brewer identifies as queer and a nondenominational Christian. He associates both his religion and Pride with love and positivity.
“My God is about love and not necessarily like gay, straight, bi, whatever,” Brewer said. “Just accepting differences, working with them rather than hating because that’s not going to get anywhere.”
Olivia Burston, Jose Barajas, Nate Sheed and Sydney Conway came to the festival together to have fun and support the LGBTQ community.
Especially after Friday’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, Sheed said it felt “more important than ever to be out here.”
“We’re here, we’re queer, we’re not going away,” Barajas said, adding that the festival was also about finding community for him.
“It was easy to feel defeated on a national level” on Friday, Conway said. “But on the state level and on a local level, we can still fight for our own rights and ... fight for local representatives to still fight for our individual rights. So I think that’s important.”