By Alexander Shedd
In a joyous display of music, costumes and rainbow flags, Roanoke PRIDE, Roanoke County’s annual LGBTQ+ community festival, returned for its 30th anniversary after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The three-day event began on Friday, April 29 and concluded on Sunday evening, May 1. The weekend was filled with live music and drag shows, and included appearances from special guests Morgan McMichaels, Detox and Jackie Cox of RuPaul Drag Race fame.
The majority of events were held in the rain on Sunday at the festival’s location on Salem Avenue SW in downtown Roanoke, with festivities being opened by Reverend Catherine Houchins of Metropolitan Community Church and Reverend Joe Cobb, Roanoke’s openly gay city councilman currently running for reelection. After opening remarks, a prayer, and a rendition of the national anthem by “Mister Gay Roanoke” J.P. Gulla (better known by his stage name Big Daddy), Councilman Cobb read a proclamation by Roanoke City Mayor Sherman Lea on behalf of the City Council dedicating the weekend to the LGBTQ+ community and the event.
“We’re a resilient group,” Cobb said during the event. “We’ll show up in rain, sleet, snow, whatever. We’ve got to celebrate these occasions in our lives and be together. I wish I could say all the challenges were behind us, but they’re not.”
The small area covered roughly two blocks in downtown Roanoke and included over a dozen tents set up by local vendors and sponsors, including the Roanoke Diversity Center, which was also advertising for its upcoming Pride Month event on Saturday, June 11. Many stands featured various LGBTQ+-themed gifts such as clothing, mugs, stickers and local crafts, as well as a highly popular “Free Mom Hugs” tent hosted by an LGBTQ+ child advocacy group of the same name (more information is available at FreeMomHugs.org). The festivities concluded Sunday evening with an afterparty featuring more music and drag.
Roanoke Diversity Center President Peter Volosin said in an interview with NBC10, “Virginia’s a great place and we are able to make these advances with the Virginia Values Act. I think we saw a lot more LGBT folks being more open because of that. We are seeing things like in Texas and Florida that are putting people back in the closet and we don’t want to see that happening here.” Texas and Florida, among other states, recently passed state bills considered discriminatory against transgender people, including a new executive order in Texas mandating that child protective services investigate families who provide gender-affirming medical care to children.
Volosin continued to speak in reference to the center’s Campbell Avenue location. “When people are coming out or are unsure of their sexuality, it’s hard for them. That’s why it’s great to have a community center where people can be themselves and learn about themselves. That allows them to be open and honest with who they are. Both with the families and out in the public.”
LGBTQ+ is the acronym that refers to the sexual minority community. It stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer, with the plus sign representing the other countless identities held by sexual minorities around the world.