Celebrating pride in rural places.
It is now officially June, which means it is also Pride month. I’ve been thinking a lot this last week about pride and what it means to have it, whether in yourself or where you’re from. I spent the last few days back in New York City for the first time since I moved away two years ago. Right before I flew up to the city, I published an article in Longreads about the Queer South and spoke on social media about coming out as queer for the first time. I technically came out as bisexual to my friends and close family years ago, back when I was still living full-time in New York, but it wasn’t until I moved back to North Carolina that I really began to think of it as a part of my identity. I had always thought that I would find my community when I got to the metropolis— any metropolis, really— but in actuality I found my community in the new friends I made once I began to live as myself here.
I state this fact all the time, but it still seems hard for most people to believe: the Northeast holds 19% of the LGBTQ+ population of America; the South holds 35%. That’s nearly double. We are here, and always have been. I have more queer friends in this place than I have ever had anywhere else. So why does it still feel so hard to both proud of this place and proud of who I am within it?
If you are from a place that is deemed culturally “cool”, it is so much easier to take pride in it. It is so much easier to be excited to tell people where you are from because you know you won’t be met with questions, judgement, or distaste.
When I was a kid I used to dream of being from anywhere else. And as I got older and realized my life wouldn’t look anything like the lives deemed as “good” or “acceptable” in this place, I didn’t know what to do. That kind of thinking turns to hatred if you let it. Even now, it still feels hard to admit how much I love this place. It still feels hard to look at it, with all its violence and its hatred and its dark history, and feel good about being from here. I try to remind myself that there is hatred everywhere, and that is the larger issue we should go up against. I try to remind myself that pride does not mean unequivocal agreement. I try to remind myself that I can be both critical and loving of a place, and that love can also look like belief— in a better future, in the people that will help us get there, in the people who have long been working to help us get there.
The original idea for this week’s newsletter was to compile a list of pride events in every county of North Carolina. Perhaps that was optimistic. When I started researching, I came across this piece by Tiffany Stanley in The Washington Post from 2018. It tells the story of a group of students and teachers in Western North Carolina’s Alexander County advocating for a gay-straight alliance at their school and the openly-gay town businessman, Mitchell Gold of Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams furniture, as they fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the county. Activists in the county— and the state and region— are up against the deep roots of the Southern Baptist tradition, which condemns homosexuality. North Carolina also ranks as one of the worst states for LGBTQ+ rights protection.
The piece especially touches on an idea that I find quite prevalent here, which is that those close to you won’t judge you personally for being gay, but will certainly judge what they call the “gay lifestyle”. I have had so many students come to me and say their families are fine with them personally being queer, but not with queer people in general. So many in this region find that if they embrace who they are they will lose the community they have grown up in. It is very hard to be proud of your communities if it feels like a constant trade-off.
I wish this was easier. I wish we could find ways to be proud of both your own identity and the place you are from. I wish it was easier to be open about who you are and not run the risk of sacrificing personal safety in order to have representation. I wish I had a better answer. Stanley makes a great point in the piece: “Few places in rural America have a Mitchell Gold, a gay rights activist who is also one of the most powerful men in town.”
Despite the challenges, I think it is more important than ever that we get out there. That we show up as we are. That we find support in community, even when that community feels far away. That we make sure the voices we know and the voices we don’t are heard. That we love each other. That we never stop loving each other.
Here is a list of all the pride events, information, and resources I could find for each county in North Carolina. If you know of any others or would like to add another state, please leave info in the comments! I would love to expand this beyond North Carolina and include the whole Southern region. Note that many of these events are scheduled for this September rather than June.
And as always, happy pride, my friends.
Also Alamance County
Blue Ridge Pride (serving 26 counties across Western NC)
Elizabeth City and Northeastern North Carolina (outdated info but keep your eye on the page)
Foothills of Western NC (Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Lincoln, Watauga and Wilkes counties)