Charlottesville celebrates its annual Pride festival

The community comes together to celebrate and support differences


Although Pride is celebrated all over the world, many who come to Charlottesville Pride appreciate its efforts to make everyone feel included and engaged.

Carolyn Lane | Cavalier Daily

As Charlottesville local Grey Gresser walks into Cville Pride 2019, he recalls the many pride festivals he’s been to before and the journey that he has had with his identity. A year and a half ago, Gresser came out as transgender and continued to build bonds within the LGBTQ community, seeing people that he felt his story intertwined with.

This Pride, Gresser celebrates the milestones he’s had along the way — getting his name legally changed, his birth marker legally changed and experiencing the joy of his journey that has led him this far.

This past weekend, downtown Charlottesville celebrated the end of Pride Week with its eighth annual Pride Festival last Saturday. The event, which historically began as a small picnic, has blossomed into a festival that features over 60 vendors that support local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning communities, as well as plenty of dancing, singing and food. Around 9,500 people attended the festival, and many came dressed in an array of bright colors. Children and adults alike danced, cheered and smiled along with performers in a display of positivity. 

This year’s Pride holds special significance within the LGBTQ community, as this past June marked the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising. This movement, led by transwomen of color, began after discriminatory police raids occurred at the Stonewall Inn and bar in New York City and was an important catalyst in the struggle for LGBTQ rights in the United States. 

Although Pride is celebrated all over the world, many who come to Charlottesville Pride appreciate its efforts to make everyone feel included and engaged.

Graduate Arts and Sciences student Dylan Spivey reflected on his first experience at Cville Pride as a great way for the diversity of the LGBTQ community to feel celebrated in a more social way than other cities’ prides.

“One of my favorite things that I've seen is the amount of families and small kids,” Spivey said. “It’s wonderful to see that sort of celebrating across generations.”

One differentiating factor of Cville Pride from other cities’ pride celebrations is the inclusion of stalls from different local organizations and businesses that provide information to the community, in addition to the party-like atmosphere that other Pride festivals around the world generally share. This year, vendors included Planned Parenthood, the LGBTQ+ Center, religious groups and political organizations.

Third-year College student Carlin Mackenzie, a study-abroad student from Scotland, appreciated this emphasis on community interests in comparison to other Pride festivals he has been to.

“Gay people have and always will exist … It’s not something that’s going to go away, it’s just something you have to embrace the community aspect of it,” Mackenzie said. “Pride should be about individuals and the community rather than marketing stuff towards people. It should be a celebration not a commodity. Cville Pride is one of the better ones I've been to in terms of feeling like the community is in charge rather than corporate interests.”

One of the vendors at Pride this year included Free Mom Hugs, an organization that goes to different pride festivals around the world and offers hugs, emphasizing unconditional love, particularly to those who have been disowned due to their sexuality. The organization has chapters in all 50 states, as well as in a few countries around the world. Shirley Carley, leader of the Virginia chapter, talked about the significance of pride to her as a place where everyone can be themselves.

“With so much hate out in the world, to be able to cross-dress if that’s what you’re into or hold hands with your significant other who happens to be the same gender, just to be yourself and not worry about it, that’s fantastic.” Carley said.

In addition to the different stalls of information and food, Cville Pride also hosted a drag show, which featured multiple vibrant performers.

Gresser spoke of the youth-like atmosphere present at Charlottesville’s Pride, as well as the drag show — Gresser’s favorite part of the festival — which he feels contributed strongly to “the whole energy.” 

“I have to admit the drag makes my heart sing,” Gresser said. “It’s super great to be around other people. Everyone here is just a little bit different and has their own thing they can contribute to the community … I feel so much like I belong here. And none of that would have been possible if no one else helped me, if the community didn’t embrace me. I’m really, really happy that I’m able to stand here and talk to you guys and talk to everyone I’ve talked to. It’s just a really great experience.”

The vibrant LGBTQ community that Charlottesville has today also puts into perspective the journey up to this point, as well as the road ahead to open celebration and support of the LGBTQ community. However, attendees at Cville Pride also commented on how there are still a lot of improvements that can be done.

Ellen Waddell, Class of 1977 alumna and attendee, was in the second undergraduate class of women to go to the University for all four years. In her time at the University, she recalls experiencing a lot of discrimination for being a woman committed to her education. While recognizing the changes since then, Waddell also spoke to her disappointment in hearing some students still voice “not gay!” in the Good Ol’ Song at football games.

“I respect everything about the [University], but there are some things that scare me, like this business of ‘not gay,’” Waddell said. “Are you incapable of comprehending that language meanings change through time?”

Waddell sees Cville Pride as a journey in which people get a chance to experience the rich community present in Charlottesville, which has grown through the years.

“The festival here? It’s just the joy,” Waddell said. “To see people come out to flaunt who they are every day of the week and not feel like they’re being judged for it —  isn’t that really what it’s about? I mean seriously. Don’t you want to live in a society where people can genuinely project who they are?”

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