Thursday, June 18, 2009

UPDATE: Roanoke Pride Responds to My Post, "The Rev. To Roanoke Pride: "Have Some Pride in Yourself!"

Last Sunday I wrote an article critical of the Roanoke (Va.) Pride committee for holding our annual "Pride in the Park" festival during September, instead of June. (Read the original post here) On Wednesday I received an e-mailed response from Committee Chair, Karen Gray, which is posted in its entirety below. I have also posted my response:

Good Afternoon Rev. Steve,

My name is Karen Gray and I am Chair of Roanoke Pride Inc. the committee which puts on Pride events throughout the year, including Pride in the Park, which you are aware is held in September. I do wish you would have contacted a member of our current committee when putting together your article that was posted on Sunday "Roanoke Pride: Have some Pride in Yourself". We would have loved to assure you that we do have plenty of Pride. We are a diverse committee made up of men and women who encompass much of the LGBTQ2I rainbow. In our meetings, we talk about what people in our community would like us to provide as far as Pride events go, we add outings, like hiking, kayaking, and camping. We have pageants and movie nights. This year we are having a day of giving back the Saturday before Pride in the Park, on which we will work with local organizations to help in our community. We will volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, Roanoke City Parks, and Total Action Against Poverty. Any member of our community will be welcome to sign up to help out on that day.

We do discuss on a regular basis whether we should move our event to a different weekend, day, or month. And every year we decide to stick with the 3rd Sunday in September. Because 20 years ago that is when the 1st Roanoke Pride was held. People in our community know we hold our event on that weekend, and we have grown to over 3000 attendees, so they seem to be OK with it. We do offer events in June, this year a 20th anniversary Dinner Dance that celebrated the history of Roanoke Pride, the Pride movement in our country that was kicked into high gear with the events at Stonewall 40 years ago, and of course, The Park's 30 year anniversary.

I am sorry if you have misunderstood our decision to keep our festival in September as anything less than a desire for continuity and to remain true to ourselves and our history. Our tag line used to be "September means Pride". But we have dropped that as we have added more and more activities during the year. You see, in Roanoke we do not feel the need for a Pride Month. We celebrate with Pride our selves and our diversity every month, and day, of the year. And yes, we do hold some event in June every year, to connect to that National Month of Pride that is acknowledged by many. We just don't feel the need to stop there. Check out our web page to see a schedule of upcoming activities and events.

Our meetings are on the 3rd Monday of each month, lower level of MCCBR at 8th and Jamison in SE, 7pm. We are an all volunteer organization, our meetings are open, and anyone is welcome to come to a meeting to share their thoughts, or to join the committee. Next time you would like to address us, please join us.

Thank you,


Karen E. Gray
Roanoke Pride, Inc.

Response from Rev. Steve:

Dear Karen,

Thank you for the time you took to respond to my recent blog post, "Roanoke Pride: Have some Pride in Yourself".

First I'd like to say that the work being done by the dedicated volunteers of the Roanoke Pride committee is valuable to our local LGBT community and you are all to be commended. Raising visibility through good works helps to change the hearts and minds of those who either don't understand us or fear us. I applaud you all for your hard work.

You folks always put on a great show at Pride in the Park. Every year I look forward to the event, because I know all of my friends will be there. It gives me an opportunity to catch up with those I haven't seen in a while, listen to some great entertainment and show my pride in a city that has become my home. But the timing of the event -- three months after Pride Month -- is anticlimactic to say the least.

My article was written in the heat of the moment after reading about all the Pride events going on across the US and around the world this month and out of a sense of frustration that I, and the rest of the local LGBT community, must travel to other cities to celebrate pride during Pride Month. It was written with the same sense of urgency and momentum that is sweeping the nation in this time of great change brought on by the turning political tide; a sense of urgency and momentum that has sadly passed Roanoke by.

The point of my article was that by holding Pride in the Park in September, not June, sends the message that we as a local community are not connected to the larger, global LGBT community. We sit back and watch pride celebrations on the news, or YouTube. The Sundance channel airs independent films by and about LGBT people all month long. We get caught up in the excitement and have no way to express it locally during Pride Month.

Dinner dances and fund-raisers are great and do serve a purpose, but they are not the same as a Pride festival. Over 3000 people attend Pride in the Park in September, but how many attend the activities that do take place in June? How many more would attend them if they were part of a larger month-long celebration of LGBT Pride?

Maintaining the status quo just "because it's the way we've always done things" is the same argument used to deny LGBT people their God-given right to marry the person they love. Shaking things up is what our movement is all about. It's not about throwing parties, it's about justice and justice is never convenient.

We have local causes we could be getting behind that would rally our community and get more people politically involved. Why is there no plaque downtown to remember the shooting at the Backstreet? Why have most Roanokers totally forgotten the shooting? Seven of our queer brothers and sisters were shot by a crazed gunman as they celebrated a birthday. One of those people died. The survivors will never again feel totally safe. Why have we allowed this to be swept under the rug? Because Roanokers don't like to make waves. This goes to the point I made in my article about low self-esteem and minding ones place.

We're gay! Making waves is what we do best.

Holding Pride in the Park during Pride Month would go a long way to establishing a sense of connectedness to the larger struggle for LGBT equality. Besides, it just makes sense.

You're right, I should have contacted someone from Roanoke Pride before I wrote my article. I plan to attend your monthly meetings, talk to you all and write a follow-up article. I'll help publicize the great work you do and get involved in any way I can. But I'll warn you in advance, I intend to make waves.

Thank you again for your feedback. I look forward to meeting with you all and working together to achieve full equality for all LGBT people. That is the whole point of Pride, isn't it?


"Rev. Steve" Publicover


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