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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.

(SOUNDBITE OF YEARS' "THE ASSASSINATION OF DOW JONES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.