Wearing a dress and a crown, Travis Lewis – a performer who goes by the name Amazing Grace – was just one of thousands of people singing, yelling and marching Saturday at N.C. Pride.
The statewide gay rights festival and parade held at Duke University each year attracts a diverse crowd, and people like Lewis/Grace weren’t the only ones representing dual identities. Many advertised themselves not just as LGBT people but as LGBT Christians, Jews, atheists, politicians, anarchists, Latinos, college students, bikers, athletes and musicians. There were at least two women wearing hijabs, and many more in Black Lives Matter shirts.
“It’s validation,” said Xavion Haney, who goes by Xavion Tyshear. “We’re here to represent everybody.”
Lewis/Grace and Haney/Tyshear wore sashes declaring them Miss and Mr. North Carolina Gay Pride 2016. But it was politics, not pageants, that provided the backdrop for much of the day’s events.
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The Hillary Clinton and Gary Johnson presidential campaigns had booths there, as did the Green Party, whose candidate is Jill Stein. Neither the Republican Party nor the Donald Trump campaign appeared to have a booth, but there was at least one person representing the pro-gay Log Cabin Republicans group.
Trump’s influence was inescapable, though, in hats, shirts and capes that read “Make America Gay Again.”
In state politics, several people were stumping for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper. His challenger, incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, was most visibly represented by the many “Flush McCrory” signs referencing House Bill 2.
The law bans transgender people from using the bathroom of the gender they identify as in government buildings like schools. It also bans cities and counties from creating any discrimination protections for LGBT people.
“Every day this law is on the books,” many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people “are at risk of discrimination,” said N.C. Rep. Chris Sgro, a Greensboro Democrat and the only openly gay state legislator, in a speech to the crowd. He also leads Equality NC, a gay rights group.
“By and large, I was pretty horrified by what I saw in my time in the General Assembly, folks,” said Sgro, who was appointed to his seat just weeks after HB2 passed in March.
Competing with the message from speakers like Sgro were half a dozen vocal protesters along the parade route. They carried a cross and signs with messages like “you deserve hell” and “you need Jesus.”
Some in the parade broke ranks to go hold up rainbow flags or kiss in front of them.
Will Van Deventer, a bisexual 22-year-old from Hillsborough, talked with one protester for about 10 minutes. Later, he said it was mostly a theological debate.
“I was raised in a conservative Christian home by my parents, who I now have a really good relationship with,” he said. “I’ve read the Bible a lot. I’ve memorized the verses, been to Bible camps. And I just don’t understand how we’re reading the same book.”
One group that is trying to get on the same page is the Durham Police Department, which on Friday announced the hiring of its first LGBT liaison officer.
Charles Strickland Jr., introduced to the crowd Saturday, will work with victims of hate crimes and educate fellow officers on interacting with LGBT individuals, among other duties.
“I think it shows progressive thinking” by new DPD Chief C.J. Davis, said Strickland, who is gay and a five-year veteran of the police force.
Mark Kleinschmidt, a criminal defense attorney, gay man and former Chapel Hill mayor, said more police departments should follow suit.
“I have seen LGBT folks engage with law enforcement and have very difficult experiences with them,” he said.
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran