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'Forward, together, not one step back:' Raleigh celebrates 30 years of pride

NC Pride at Night in Raleigh, NC on Saturday, Sept. 29.

Raleigh celebrated Pride on Saturday with their second annual N.C. Pride at Night Festival and Celebration. 

Starting at 4 p.m., people from all over the state came to downtown Raleigh and filled rows of tents along with a lineup of performances by local LGBTQ choral and instrumental groups. 

The event marked the 30th anniversary of Raleigh Pride, which began in 1988 when 2,000 participants marched from the NC State Bell Tower to the Capitol Building. 

Francesco Armas watches the Triangle Pride Band perform at the NC Pride at Night Festival and Celebration in Raleigh, NC on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. The Triangle Pride Band, based in the Raleigh-Durham area is an LGBTQ+ and ally community program.

Hector Salgado, the executive director of Alliance of AIDS Services Carolina, pushed a cart filled with free ice pops and information about STD and HIV testing at a nearby tent, sponsored by AASC. 

AASC’s website said it offers free and confidential HIV testing, food banks and support groups to those in surrounding counties. 

St. John's Metropolitan Community Church was there promoting their Gospel Drag Show on Sunday, which would fundraise for their food pantry.

Rev. Vance Haywood, the pastor of St. John's, explained the goal of the event itself.

"This biggest piece of it is just getting a community together that wouldn't otherwise think of coming to a church," Haywood said. "Much less think of putting drag and church together."

Francesco Armas, Jamar Turner and Joey Armas (from left to right) watch performances at the NC Pride at Night Festival and Celebration in Raleigh, NC on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018.

He said it was an opportunity to allow folks to see a different side of church and to allow performers to express some of their spiritual gifts when they otherwise couldn't do that, particularly with church communities.

A main speaker at the event was Mandy Carter. Carter, a lesbian, activist and Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, helped organize the original Raleigh Pride 30 years ago.

"Look how far we've come, y'all," Carter said to a crowd of cheers.

Carter described how Pride in North Carolina began in 1981 after the death of Ronald Antonevitch, who was attacked along with a group of sunbathers at the Little River for being suspected of being gay. He later died in the hospital.

"After that incident people in Durham had to come together and ask this question: You don't like me, but do you get to kill me," Carter said.

Demonstrators held an impromptu walk in downtown Durham that year. It wasn't until 1986 that Pride was officially held in Durham.

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Mandy Carter, LGBTQ+ activist and 2005 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, speaks at NC Pride at Night Festival and Celebration in Raleigh, NC on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018.

"You know what they say, pride starts at home," Carter said. 

Carter explained its importance in coming to Raleigh in 1988, near the state capitol building.

Carter's speech, like so many booths and volunteers at the celebration, honed in on the upcoming elections. She asked those 18 or older in the crowd to raise their hands and emphasized to them the power changing of hearts and minds through public policy.

Carter ended her speech by leading the crowd in a chant, familiar to the Moral Monday marches: "Forward, together, not one step back."