Attendees line the streets of uptown at NC Pride, which Charlotte hosted in 1994.
WFAE has a new initiative to connect with our audience and get story suggestions. On our website, we ask you to tell us what you wonder about the Charlotte region, its life, and culture. We recently put three questions to a vote – letting you decide the story you wanted us to cover. The overwhelming winner was a question that came to us from Jennifer Lange, a resident of Charlotte’s Steele Creek area.
My question is: why does Charlotte celebrate pride during August, and not during June, like the rest of the world?
Hi all! This is Nick de la Canal with WFAE here. This is a really good question and it’s one I’ve often wondered myself. I mean – not only is the temperature through the roof during August in Charlotte, but June is traditionally celebrated as ‘Gay Pride Month,’ and it’s the month in which the Stonewall Riots happened.
That’s why many major cities – New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago… etc. – all celebrate pride during June. So what’s up with Charlotte?
Well, to find out, we reached out to Joshua Burford with UNC Charlotte’s multicultural resource center, who has spent years documenting the history of Charlotte’s LGBT population and Charlotte Pride itself.
1981 – Charlotte’s first ‘Gay Pride Day’
He says that actually, the first Charlotte Pride Day did, in fact, take place in June. That was June of 1981, way out in the University area, which was considered way out of town, far away from uptown.
Charlotte’s first ‘Gay Pride Day’ held in 1981
"There was a hundred people at the first pride, which is a lot of people," Burford says, "I mean, University City might as well have been Florida. To have that many people show up to be public is really interesting."
Even more interesting to me was the first pride day’s corporate sponsor: Budweiser. I mean – who would have guessed?
Burford says that first pride was more like a field day, less like what we think of as pride today. They had outdoor games and a stage with live music and a few speakers. It was all underground – you had to hear about it from a friend.
Gay pride in Charlotte continued this way for the next couple of years – always in June, though sometimes at different locations.
1994 – Charlotte hosts NC state pride
Burford says a turning point came in 1994, when Charlotte was picked to host the North Carolina State Pride. The event drew nearly 4,000 people to Marshall Park. Again, the event was held in June. The year was notable because it was the first time Charlotte had a pride march.
"And it wasn’t a pride parade," Burford says, "It was a march. And the distinction in the record is that a march is held for a political purpose. It wasn’t just a celebration."
It was also notable because after that year, with the exception of a gay-oriented arts and culture festival, Charlotte didn’t really have another pride event until after the millennium.
2001 – Charlotte PRIDE is launched
This was the year that the modern Charlotte Pride, as we know it today, was founded. At first, they held their events in May, until 2006, when the switch was made to August. And – why exactly?
Well, Burford says it’s partly because they moved from Marshall Park to uptown, and it really just came down to plain old scheduling.
"You can imagine, right – like, trying to organize an entire festival around people’s schedules and trying to make it historically connected, but also, like, just the plain logistics of – if you’re going to shut down uptown, then the city dictates when you have these festivals," Burford says.
Since then, the festival was held a few times in July, once in October, and for the last six years, it’s settled comfortably into August.
Matt Comer, a spokesperson for Charlotte Pride, confirms this. We wrote me saying August "is just a good time with the city’s calendar. And organizers are actually glad Charlotte Pride doesn’t conflict with other major prides, that way, people can attend more than one.
So, it’s kind of a simple answer, but there it is – plain old scheduling.