The Daily Gamecock

22nd annual Pride Parade and Festival colors Columbia

Festivalgoers gather in support of LGBT rights

Columbia was awash in color Saturday as the city celebrated South Carolina’s 22nd annual Pride Parade and Festival with banners that hung from lampposts, rainbow-colored ribbons that rolled down the Statehouse steps, flags that adorned Finlay Park and even some of the hairstyles of thousands who gathered in the park.

Along with those splashes of color came a sense of ebullience and energy that was especially evident toward the parade’s finale by Finlay Park, where thousands of festivalgoers joined vendors, LGBT organizations and other groups and a number of live music acts throughout the afternoon.

The energy, however, seemed especially pronounced this year compared to past parades, noted some attendees.

Bill Epps of Forest Acres, who walked with South Carolina Clergy and Friends Supporting the Rights of Gays and Lesbians, described the air about the festival as “exciting [and] progressive,” as first-time festival attendee Chris Wulff of Columbia jumped in with “hopeful.”

Said Drew Newton, the graduate assistant for the USC’s LGBT Programs, that energy has permeated campus as well.

The university’s Office of Multicultural Student Affairs now has an LGBT office, and more 300 students signed up to be allies last year alone, a record for USC’s Safe Zone program.

At the parade, that increase was evident, as about 40 students and employees walked together, up from about 20 last year, said Newton, donning garnet and black and leading crowds in the classic call-and-response chant of “GAME – COCKS.”

Their efforts did not go unnoticed, as they won distinction at the festival as the parade’s best walking group.

Epps also noted the increase in attendance, saying that he was most excited about the “great turnout” this year and adding that those walking in the parade and others were “not letting the negative things influence them,” referring to the protesters who had also gathered around the Statehouse, as the group was instead “ignoring the ignorance.”

Wulff went on to say that “there’s an awful lot of negativity in the world right now, a lot of stupid negativity in the world right now.”

Combatting that negativity was a common theme throughout the afternoon, as many messages for protesters were emblazoned on onto T-shirts.

One declared, “It’s a human thing. You should understand.”

Another was more blunt, simply stating, “Some chicks marry chicks — get over it.”

One emcee on the main stage was somewhat more subtle, saying, “For all of those protesters who say we’re not on God’s side … He does always seem to provide us … with a beautiful atmosphere — not a cloud in the sky.”

Others, such as Kiki Wilson, a Panamanian-American living in Columbia, had less of a statement to make and simply appreciated the atmosphere and fun the afternoon provided.

“I just like everybody getting together and having a good time and all the diverse groups,” she said.

That diversity was manifest in the parade and its crowds, as they represented groups such as the African-American, Latino and Filipino communities and others including area high schools, religious groups, businesses and LGBT organizations throughout the region.