Crowds lined Sylva’s Bridge Park on Sept. 10 anticipating the second annual Sylva Pride. Battling the consistent light rain, patrons were all smiles milling about the booths and the park grounds.
Following the successes of the following year, Sylva Pride aimed to be even bigger and better this year and seemed to have achieved such. With over 30 booths with activities ranging from face painting and photo booth opportunities to local health resources and voter registration, there was something to meet everyone’s interests. Pride goers enjoyed live music throughout the day, a family friendly drag show, and the highlight of the afternoon, the pride parade through Downtown Sylva.
Over 500 people marched in the parade itself with more than 100 additional people lining the sidewalks cheering the group on. This is significantly larger than the year prior where about 350 people were in attendance.
In a demonstration by Beulah Land, the host of the festival’s daytime drag show, she asked first-time Sylva Pride attendees to raise their hands. Over a quarter of the crowd raised their hands and were first-time attendees. “I got chills when I saw the number of first-timers,” said Juan Segura-Luna, an attendee of the festival.
Sylva Pride this year attracted people from near and far. People from the coast all the way to Atlanta came to celebrate a moment of openness and community in the small mountain town of Sylva. Western Carolina University students specifically came out in droves to support Sylva Pride. Two western students who asked to remain anonymous shared their stories of why having a pride event in Sylva is so important to them and how they feel represented at Pride.
“As someone who came from a small rural town kind of like Sylva, it’s nice to see people being open and accepting of everyone. Just telling them to come out and be themselves… it’s nice,” said one student. “It’s just such a wonderful gathering of community… I see people from all over the community…people who have lived here all their lives as well as students and that is really cool.”
It was a common theme among attendees to take the moment at Sylva Pride in and cherish it. As demonstrated in a moving performance by drag performer Ivanna Cookie, not everyone is safe to embrace their true and happiest self as a member of the LGBTQIA community.
During her performance, Cookie shared a powerful message about protecting queer youth. Cookie demonstrated to the crowd a powerful message using an excerpt from Andrea Gibson’s spoken word poetry. In her performance she said, “Queer youth are five times more likely to die by suicide, that means you lived five times harder than you should’ve had to, to still have a body when you graduated high school.” That line, paired with the song “Unstoppable” by SIA, rang through the crowd and moved goers to tears.
Those words are all too familiar to many people. As expressed by the two students, it is important to have a community that celebrates pride when sometimes that is the only time that you are allowed to be your most genuine and happy self. Land seconds this notion by saying that “every day is pride” and we should celebrate it as such.
With another pride season down, the Sylva Pride committee is working nonstop already to make next year bigger, better, and even more special than the year before. Plans are already in the works for future events throughout the year planned by the committee. Pride recommends following its social media, @Sylvapride on Facebook and Instagram, to stay up to date on all the events that are to come.