The only thing better than watching the first Charlotte Pride Parade since 1994 was getting to march in it. I had been invited to walk with the LGBT Community Center of Charlotte the day before the parade, on Saturday. I had a pair of white hot pants and a rainbow boa both ready in my closet on the off chance that someone asked me to walk in the parade. Not that I was counting on it. I just wanted to be prepared.
I made my way to Sunday's parade early to catch a glimpse of float preparations and to ask LGBT community leaders why it took so long to resurrect the parade.
"Location was a big thing. We needed to get back into Uptown, so that was the first step," said O'Neale Atkinson, director of youth services for Time Out Youth, who rode through Uptown on a pink and green float alongside LGBT youth.
An increase in corporate sponsors, including Bank of America, Food Lion and Time Warner Cable, also helped.
"Corporate sponsorships weren't there in order to bring a high-quality parade," said openly gay District 3 councilwoman LaWana Mayfield of years past. "The groundwork has been laid over the last few years."
Pride organizers said about 80,000 people attended this year's two-day festival, including 45,000 to 50,000 onlookers at the parade alone.
The Charlotte Pride festival wasn't always held in Uptown. It called Marshall Park home from 2001 through 2005 and moved to Gateway Village from 2006 through 2009. About 10,000 to 15,000 people came to the festival in 2010, held at the N.C. Music Factory, and about 20,000 to 30,000 people attended 2011's festival, in Uptown. About 50,000 people attended Charlotte Pride when it became a two-day event, in 2012. This year, Mayor Patsy Kinsey was the first mayor of Charlotte to issue a proclamation deeming Aug. 24 and 25 "Charlotte Pride Weekend."
My friend Kel and I were told to meet fellow marchers at 11:45 a.m. on North Tryon Street between 9th and 10th streets. Glenn Griffin, the new operations director of the LGBT Community Center, joked that only a Pride parade would start at 1 p.m. on a Sunday, because everyone was still tired from the previous night's parties.
At about 1 p.m. the parade was nearly ready to begin. Wearing a bold rainbow sash, Janice Covington, the first transgender Democratic National Convention delegate from North Carolina last year, made her way onto the trunk of a convertible. Motorcyclists revved their engines.
Then I spotted Jennifer Roberts in the parade staging area. The former Mecklenburg County commissioner and District 9 congressional candidate donned brown sandals and a navy sundress. I asked her to walk with us since she was not scheduled to march with anyone in the parade. She happily obliged and roamed around the stage area in search of Pride accessories. She returned 15 minutes later decked out in a small yellow boa and a red face mask from the Gore Gore Luchadores, a group of women who wrestle in fake blood for charity.
Along the route Roberts shook hands and repeated, "Be who you are!"
Protesters numbered in the single digits. One elderly man held up a Bible while wading through the parade area. I wished him an extra enthusiastic "Happy Pride."
The original story incorrectly reported the year Charlotte Pride began in Marshall Park. The correct year is 2001.