WILMINGTON — A sea of rainbow, met with honks and cheers from passersby, could not be missed on Wilmington City Hall steps Friday afternoon. Roughly 100 LGBTQ+ supporters gathered for the signing of Mayor Bill Saffo’s Pride month proclamation.
“We are a diverse community and everyone is welcome in the City of Wilmington,” Saffo said at the top of the steps, surrounded by LGBTQ+ organization leadership.
The city decreed June as Pride Month for the third year in a row as Saffo penned his signature to the proclamation. Rainbow heart stickers were dispersed, bubbles floated through the air; people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities were in attendance.
“It shows this community is about inclusiveness and diversity and I think that’s what this crowd here said today,” Saffo told Port City Daily.
The LGBTQ Center of the Cape Fear Coast organized the turnout as a way to celebrate and come together, according to executive director Caroline Morin. She said she wanted to spread some joy during a time that’s “been rough out there for the people in [the] LGBTQ community.”
Morin was referencing opposition marginalized communities often face on a daily basis and more specifically Tuesday’s Pride Storytime protest at the New Hanover County Pine Valley Library.
FBI-labeled extremist group Proud Boys, along with other self-proclaimed Christians, disrupted an event meant to create inclusivity for children under the age of 7.
Mayor Saffo called the incident “unfortunate”: “This is not a community that tolerates hate.”
Director Edward Adams of SAGE Wilmington of the Cape Fear Coast, a service and advocacy group for gay elders, was one of many advocate groups in attendance — PFLAG Wilmington, Wilmington Pride and Women Organizing for Wilmington and Port City Pride among them.
Adams, who moved to Wilmington from San Francisco with his husband nine years ago, said he was overwhelmed when the mayor came out to read and sign the proclamation in front of the crowd. Originally, organizers thought a select few would have to represent the groups in the mayor’s chambers for the reading.
“It’s an honor to even have a proclamation,” Adams said. “We’re kind of overjoyed with that.”
Adams added he felt more comfortable sitting on city hall steps with more allies in attendance and without demonstrators from the opposing side. He was speaking in regards to this week’s incident at the Pine Valley library.
City spokesperson Jennifer Dandron told Port City Daily Thursday, when asked about increased police presence for the proclamation signing, active security was always at city hall. A handful of Wilmington Police Department officers, along with a K-9 officer and Chief Donnie Williams, stood on guard but did not interfere with festivities.
Some in attendance remained cautious of their presence.
“We’re not sure if they’re here to protect me or make me go away,” Morin said.
LGBTQ Center of the Cape Fear Coast had a member at the library event Tuesday. Some advocates there said the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office led protestors into the building where families were engaging in Pride Storytime.
Lt. Jerry Brewer told Port City Daily that was “100% incorrect” and officers were following the protestors into the public library, where they were allowed, to ensure no one from either side was harassed.
“We have a lot to be upset about,” said Democratic Rep. Deb Butler, also at the mayor’s signing. She was speaking in general about the state of affairs across the country. An hour before the 11:30 a.m. event, it was announced the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade.
“Individual liberties and freedoms seem to be disappearing at a rapid rate,” Butler continued, “and so this [event] is healing a portion of my heart that’s been aching all morning.”
Butler — the second openly LGBT legislator elected in North Carolina in 2017 — said she was especially grateful for leaders like Mayor Saffo’s “steadfast” support of the LGBTQ+ community.
“It was an extraordinary confirmation of diversity and equality,” Butler said. “It was heartwarming to see this engaged crowd.”
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