Sylva declares June Pride Month

Sylva Pride held its first Pride parade in 2021. Hannah McLeod photo Sylva Pride held its first Pride parade in 2021. Hannah McLeod photo

The Town of Sylva Board of Commissioners signed a proclamation last week declaring June to be LGBTQ Pride Month, just weeks after the board denied Sylva Pride’s application for its annual march.

“Our nation was founded on the principle of equal rights for all people, but the fulfillment of this promise has been long in coming for many Americans,” the proclamation reads.

The board unanimously approved the document during its May 23 meeting, at which five people spoke in public comment urging the board to support the proclamation. 

“I’m here to encourage the board to demonstrate the town’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and belonging,” said Nathan Mann. “An important first step would be to adopt the proclamation for an official Pride Month here in Sylva.” 

The proclamation notes that June was selected as Pride Month to commemorate the events that occurred over 50 years ago, known as the Stonewall Riots — demonstrations that protested the targeting of LGBTQ patrons of The Stonewall Inn and Greenwich Village in New York City.

“Everyone should be able to live without fear of prejudice, discrimination, violence and hatred based on race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation,” the proclamation states. “The Town of Sylva strives to ensure that our town is a place where all people — regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression — are treated with dignity and respect.”

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However, several speakers also noted that signing the Pride month proclamation would not solve the issue of the pride parade, which the town denied via Sylva Pride’s street closure application.

“Formally establishing a Pride Month would not be a substitute or replacement for the parade, but it would be a great way for the town to publicly show commitment to and support for the LGBTQ community,” said Mann.

Commissioners denied Sylva Pride’s street closure application in March, largely on the basis of safety, noting the difficulty of closing Main Street, the town resources involved and potentially dangerous incidents that have occurred in the past with parade participants and vehicles. During the application process, Sylva Pride agreed to pay for costs incurred by the town if it were to conduct a street closure for the event. 

Some speakers at the May 23 meeting noted that while the town denied Sylva Pride’s road closure application, several other events take place downtown that involve a road closure, and thereby, similar concerns for safety.

“This board wildly underestimated the importance of the Pride Parade,” said Jessie Roberts. “Given the current political landscape this was not the time to take away something as big and important as visibility. Either you didn’t take the time to consider it, or you did and you didn’t care.” 

Some Sylva residents have been protesting outside Sylva town board meetings since the decision to deny Sylva Pride’s road closure application. The group calls themselves “We Will March” and some reiterated that point at Thursday’s meeting.

“We will march anyway, you all know that,” said Jennifer Harr.

Sylva Pride has said it will not reapply for a road closure application.

Multiple speakers advocating for the Pride Month proclamation and the Pride Parade noted the events of Jackson County Schools Grad Walk which took place in downtown Sylva on Friday, May 3.

Students were bused to the old Jackson County Courthouse where they posed for a photo on the steps. After the photo, students were supposed to walk on the sidewalks down to Bridge Park where they would be greeted by parents and loved ones for a celebration and meal.

JCPS had applied for a road closure for a senior walk parade back in November, but the application was denied, resulting in the sidewalk plan.

According to the Sylva Police Department, plans for the large group of graduates walking on the sidewalks to Bridge Park went awry due to the unexpected amount of spectators taking up space around town.

“There was not enough space on the sidewalks for the graduates to walk,” the Sylva Police Department said in a Facebook post. “There were also concerns for the safety of the spectators so close to the moving traffic, especially if they had to clear the sidewalks to make room when the walk began.”

In an effort to keep everyone safe, seniors walking to Bridge Park were permitted to use the roadway for a small portion of the walk to navigate around the crowds of spectators.

“The pride parade has been a staple part of the Sylva Pride event for the last three years,” said Gracie Mann at the May 23 meeting. “People will arrive at this event this year and expect a parade. Much like we saw with the senior walk, people will spontaneously take up space. You can be proactive and ensure safety by working with the LGBTQ community on logistics to ensure this is a safe event.”

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