On June 4, organizations such as the Harriet Hancock Center Foundation and the Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services (PALSS) gathered at Outfest to show support of the LGBTQIA+ community and to talk about their history of advocacy and of South Carolina Pride.
The Harriet Hancock Center Foundation serves as a community center with a rich history. After her son came out to her, Harriet Hancock founded the first chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in South Carolina, while also working to establish PALSS and other organizations.
“She's a cis-gendered, straight ally and she is considered everyone’s mom,” Matthew Butler, the vice president of the Harriet Hancock Center Foundation board, said.
A prominent LGBTQIA+ advocate, Hancock organized the first South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride March.
“One year, in the late 80s, Harriet went around with her clipboard, and with a couple of other folks in the community and went around and started signing people up. From there, was born the first Pride parade in South Carolina, “ Butler said.
While COVID-19 halted some of their programs and services, they have plenty of active virtual programming and they are in the process of restarting some of the programs that were temporarily cancelled.
“Right now, our MATS program is up and running, which is the Midlands Area Transgender Support group, and the next month we are hoping to re-kick off our Youth Outloud program, serving LGBTQIA+ youth in the Midlands area,” Butler said.
Hancock also helped to establish PALSS — a clinic that provides free testing, education, case management, transportation and food access for those diagnosed with or at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
“We connect people to healthcare, we connect people to medication when they test positive and we connect people with housing,” Christopher Hay, a spokesperson for PALSS, said. “Our purpose is we're trying to end this HIV/AIDS epidemic, so we’re trying to promote safe sex all over to finally put an end to this thing.”
In addition to Columbia based organizations that were at Outfest, there were local chapters of national organizations, such as Free Mom Hugs, a national nonprofit. They are dedicated to supporting and empowering the LGBTQIA+ community, since many members of the community may lose their families when they come out.
“The story of Free Mom Hugs is it was a viral Facebook post that all these people saw and just said ‘I want to do that,’ and I was like, 'Yeah I want to do that,' and I did it.” Julie Turner, one of the state leaders for the South Carolina chapter of Free Mom Hugs, said.
These organizations were not the only ones showing their support for the LGBTQIA+ community. Other individuals, like Heather Bauer, a democratic candidate for South Carolina Statehouse District 75, were there to expand on why events like Outfest are important and why it is crucial to get involved.
“Having that camaraderie and knowing that there are so many people in Columbia who are supporting of each other, being who they are,” Bauer said.
Turner said Pride celebrations are important to the LGBTQIA+ community and all that support them.
“Events like this are extremely important to make people realize how valued they are,” Turner said. “In South Carolina, it matters more.”
Many, such as Bauer, encourage those interested to volunteer and to support these organizations so that events like Outfest can continue to happen.
"Get involved," Bauer implored. "There's no time to waste.”