‘A lifeline for LGBTQ residents’: Is there a future for Pride Month events in Lake Norman?

Over the years, the Lake Norman area hasn’t garnered the best reputation for LGBTQ+ inclusion.

Huntersville native and “Mean Girls” star Renee Rapp, who came out as a lesbian earlier this year, called her hometown “super a** backwards and very conservative” during a podcast interview last March.

“Everyone was super f***** and homophobic,” Rapp said, describing her experience growing up as a closeted teen. “It just sucked.”

While Rapp’s upbringing was personal, a shortage of Pride Month events could signal a disdain for the LGBTQ+ community.

A quick Google search reveals Pride Month celebrations in the area are scarce. Aside from a “Pride Party” at Spare Time, a bowling alley in Huntersville, there was nothing, but some events could coincide with Charlotte Pride, which takes place in August.

Past Pride events have also resulted in criticism and hate from area residents.

Mooresville held its first-ever Pride parade last October that drew roughly 100 participants, but local elected officials – and one adult protester who called the demonstration “shameful” – did not support the event, the Iredell Free News reported.

“While there is an enormous amount of hate for the LGBTQIA+ community in Mooresville, those who accept and love the community were so loud we couldn’t hear the hate,” Stephanie Kline, founder and CEO of CLEVER, the nonprofit LGBTQ+ advocacy group behind the event, told Iredell Free News.

Earlier that year, organizers at a march to mark International Transgender Day of Visibility in Mooresville were met with hecklers, with some yelling at participants as they made their way down Main Street, the Charlotte Citizen reported. A few harassers were carrying American flags, while one carried a sign that read “Find your identity in Jesus Christ.”

A future for Pride?

In recent years, the LGBTQ+ community has been a target for Lake Norman area politicians.

At the state level, N.C. Rep. John Bradford, who represents Cornelius and Huntersville, was a primary sponsor of House Bill 2 in 2016, the controversial “bathroom bill.” It required people to use restroom facilities that corresponded with the gender on their birth certificates, but was repealed.

Last year, N.C. Sen. Vickie Sawyer, who represents Iredell County, was the primary sponsor of a bill that would bar transgender girls from playing on middle and high school sports teams that align with their gender identities, the Associated Press reported. The bill became law in August.

But attitudes are different at the local level.

Huntersville Town Board member Alicia Bergsman, who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and has donated to or volunteered with local advocacy groups, such as Time Out Youth and Dudley’s Place, believes Pride Month is more than about recognizing the contributions of the LGBTQ+ community.

“I strongly believe in celebrating and supporting diversity and ensuring the place I enjoy living is safe and inclusive for everyone,” she told The Charlotte Observer in an email. “Pride month is a time to celebrate, affirm, and honor the LGBTQ+ community…while it is essential to show up during Pride Month, support should be present every day rather than just one month of the year.”

Despite the lack of Pride events, Huntersville town board member Alisia Bergsman believes residents would be receptive to events that celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.

“Supporting organizations that want to hold a Pride event in smaller towns or cities like Huntersville can be a lifeline for LGBTQ residents,” Bergsman said, noting that the Pride parade in Mooresville received a lot of support from residents. “I’d love to see an organization replicate an event like that in Huntersville.”

Strides toward inclusion

While the attitude toward Pride Month – and the LGBTQ+ community as whole – officials in a few Lake Norman towns have left the door open for future Pride events.

The Davidson Town Board issued a proclamation recognizing Pride Month at their June 11 meeting. The Center for Student Inclusion and Diversity at Davidson College provides a number of resources for LGBTQIA+ students, including advocacy groups and gender inclusive housing.

On its website, the Town of Cornelius’ mission statement contains a commitment “to fostering an inclusive community of mutual respect between government officials, town staff, including law enforcement, and all citizens regardless of race, color, religion, gender, gender expression, age, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status.”

The Huntersville Town Board also adopted goals for the upcoming fiscal year that features a vision statement: “highlighting the desire to be a safe, vibrant, and diverse community that is inclusive to all,” Bergsman said.

Huntersville board members also voted to update its public comment policy to expand on what language and behavior are considered inappropriate, Bergsman said.

The policy now states “inappropriate behavior” includes the use of bigotries, slurs, or bias against any individual or group of individuals based on race, religion, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation, pregnancy, and gender identity), disability, age, and political affiliation.”

“I continue to seek opportunities for Huntersville to grow as an inclusive town where everyone who visits or lives here feels a sense of belonging,” Bergsman said.