Pride Month celebrations largest, most diverse in history of Sandhills PRIDE

Sandhills PRIDE reported its most successful Pride month in the history of the organization, with programs and activities designed to celebrate, support, unite, and honor the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals and allies in the Sandhills.

Officially designated in June of 2000, Pride month commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York, which took place at the end of June and is commonly considered the start of the movement for LGBTQ+ equal rights.

In planning this year’s Pride month celebrations, Lauren Mathers, executive director of Sandhills PRIDE, wanted to design a variety of events in partnership with supportive community organizations that could be held in safe spaces and would provide multiple opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community and allies to come together in celebration and support of diversity and equality in the area.

“Despite the fact that challenges to our community have been steadily increasing in the past several years, we continue to work with caring partners to create safety and connection for LGBTQ+ individuals and allies,” Mathers said. “At the same time that we are seeing an alarming rise in anti-LGBTQ+ bills and policies being presented locally and across the country, as well as more hate rhetoric and violence against our friends and family, we have also seen an increase in partnerships with supportive organizations that have helped us enhance our programming and events that we can offer both during Pride Month and throughout the year.”

Renewed and increased sponsorships in 2023 from Realty World-The Nikki Bowman Team, Manifest Boutique, WellCare/Centene, and Twigg & Co., as well as a newly developed partnership with the Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities, provided the foundational support to bring to fruition an idea that Mathers had been envisioning since she started with Sandhills PRIDE – creating the first PRIDEFest in the area for Pride month.

“It started with a conversation with my kid, actually,” Mathers stated. “Their town’s Pride center and the LGBTQ+ community had create their first Pride festival last year, and as they were describing the event to me, I imagined doing something similar in our area. The more I talked about it with friends and supporters, the more positive responses and pledges of support for the project I received. We’d never done anything like it, but rising to new challenges is nothing new for Sandhills PRIDE and the people we serve.”

PRIDE in the PINES 2023, as the PRIDEFest event was titled, took place on the grounds of the beautiful Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities in downtown Southern Pines on June 10. Over 30 vendors representing local and regional artists, businesses, nonprofits, and community organizations participated in the inaugural event. Featured performers were Triangle Pride Jazz from Raleigh, as well as local performer, Jordan Cranford, and Southern Pines native, Annelle Staal. Food and beverages were provided by It’s All Good and Gyro City food trucks and Hatchet Brewery. Additional activities included a queer art booth, hosted by Nikki Sinay, owner of Let’s Paint the Town, where visitors created painted rocks and their own pinecone art that could be turned into a commemorative pin, and yoga sessions with Lindsey Knapp, owner of the SYCC LGBTQ+ Resource Center in Sanford, were offered throughout the day.

“It was an amazing day, and it’s been an incredible month!” said Nikki Bowman, one of Sandhills PRIDE’s longtime supporters and a champion sponsor for the event. “When Lauren first talked to me about putting together a pride festival for Pride Month this year, I was immediately on board. Since her arrival, she has done so much work to make connections and build support for, and acceptance of, the LGBTQ+ community in this area; I could not pass up the opportunity to continue our support. It is important to me, as a local business owner and the parent of someone who identifies as part of this community, to do everything I can to help provide safe spaces.”

WellCare of North Carolina, who renewed its PRIDE youth advocate sponsorship with Sandhills PRIDE earlier this month, was also champion sponsors of the event. Shaune Lancit, director of community engagement with WellCare, spoke about their commitment to Sandhills PRIDE and the PRIDE youth programs they support.

“WellCare and our parent company, Centene, are dedicated to supporting diversity and equality in the communities we serve. Our mission aligns with the work Sandhills PRIDE is doing, and we are honored to be partnering with them as their 2023 PRIDE Youth Advocate Sponsors and Champion Sponsors for this very special first PRIDEFest event.”

In addition to PRIDEFest, Pride month events included a family tie-dye day and expanded pride film series with the Sunrise Theater, the third annual food truck and Pride trivia evening, in partnership with Starworks Gallery, the second annual Pride youth cosmic bowling Pride month celebration, and a PRIDE night out vinyl and game night at Hatchet Brewery, as well as regularly scheduled discussion and social group gatherings.

Feature photo: Jordon Cranford and Amanda Napoli. Photo credit Joseph B. Hill.


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