Small Town Pride As Picnic
NOEL KING, HOST:
The small town of Hendersonville, N.C., celebrated LGBTQ Pride for the first time this month. There was no parade. There was no festival. It was a potluck picnic, and it surprised a lot of locals. Monique LaBorde has that story.
MONIQUE LABORDE, BYLINE: A dozen tiny rainbow flags marked the way to a park pavilion. It's a brisk June afternoon in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Picnic tables overflow with salads and not the leafy green kind.
DON STREB: We've got combination bean salads. And we got cucumber salad, potato salad, traditional macaroni salad.
LABORDE: That's Don Streb. He's helping out at Hendersonville, N.C.'s first Pride picnic, and he's overwhelmed at the turnout - close to 500 people in a town of only 14,000.
STREB: People keep coming and food keeps coming, and it's just a day of Pride that's making me choke up.
HECTOR TREJO: This is more people than I thought was going to be here.
LABORDE: Twenty-year-old Hector Trejo says he wouldn't have missed his hometown's inaugural Pride for anything, and he even decorated a cake.
TREJO: It has different - all of, like, the different Pride flags on the side.
LABORDE: What does it say?
TREJO: Happy first Pride, Hendersonville. I was in the closet for a long time. And to me, seeing all of this right now - just seeing everyone so happy - is amazing.
LABORDE: Before people dig in, Reverend Dr. Joan Saniuk, pastor of the local Metropolitan Community Church, says a blessing.
JOAN SANIUK: Look at how many beautiful people are gathered here today. So thanks for the food and for everybody who prepared it. Feel free to say, amen.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Amen.
SANIUK: All right.
LABORDE: Saniuk says a Pride picnic is symbolic.
SANIUK: When we share food together, we belong to each other. We're family.
LABORDE: There are quite a few clergy members at the picnic. Another is Reverend Jerry Miller, whose son came out as gay four decades ago.
JERRY MILLER: My wife and I went - basically went in the closet because I was a pastor of a Baptist church at that time. And I prayed that God would change my son someday. God didn't change him. He changed me.
LABORDE: Miller is 85. He's like the grandfather of this community. He leads the PFLAG chapter, a group for family and friends of LGBTQ people. Miller never expected to see a Pride Day in Hendersonville.
MILLER: No (laughter).
LABORDE: Why not?
MILLER: I didn't think it was possible. You know, I never even thought about it until Laura came along.
LAURA BANNISTER: I'm from D.C. and so it's so commonplace up there but not down here.
LABORDE: Organizer Laura Bannister thought, of course there should be a pride picnic in Hendersonville. Why not?
BANNISTER: I've had a lot of resistance, though. There have been people that have told me the KKK will show up if you have this picnic at the park.
LABORDE: But on the day of the picnic, not a single protester shows up. For many attendees, today is their first time at a Pride event, like high school student Damiana Hylemon who came with her mom.
DAMIANA HYLEMON: I have rainbow face paint on right now. And I've seen other people with, like, different flags painted on their face, but I really just wanted the rainbow one.
LABORDE: Helping young people feel a sense of community is the reason Laura Bannister wanted to organize a Pride event in the first place.
BANNISTER: I don't want young people to feel isolated alone because they don't have anyone to talk to.
LABORDE: The grandfather of this community, Jerry Miller, hopes that next year Hendersonville will have its first Pride march. Or...
MILLER: At least a stroll up Main Street.
LABORDE: And Miller wants the potluck picnic to remain a Pride tradition, too. For NPR News, I'm Monique LaBorde in Hendersonville, N.C.
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