Pride parade prevails in Waynesville as opposition evaporates

Frog Level will play host to Haywood County's first Pride event. Frog Level will play host to Haywood County's first Pride event. Cory Vaillancourt photo

A controversial email that led many to bring accusations of homophobia against two local business owners in Frog Level has been repudiated by the owners of one establishment and by workers at the other, but not by everyone who signed it.

“First, we want to apologize for the hurt our initial letter to the town of Waynesville may have caused. Our concerns regarding the Pride on Main event were never about who it celebrates; we are proud LGBTQIA+ allies,” said Brian and Theresa Pierce in a statement to The Smoky Mountain News. “Panacea has been a safe space for diversity and inclusion in Haywood County for close to 22 years. We have served, recognized, employed, befriended and loved a wide array of people during that time. We are and always have been open and welcoming.”

The apology from Panacea comes after Julia Bonomo, who with her husband Frank owns several buildings in Frog Level and are partners in popular creekside pub Frog Level Brewing, penned a poorly conceived May 24 email to Waynesville’s government opposing a proposed Pride event that will shut down Commerce Street on June 29.

In the email, Bonomo said that the event was “non-inclusive,” was not set up for success, would have a “negative impact” on businesses and offered “nothing in return for our loss of revenue during this time.”

“We do not wish to be a dumping ground for events that do not directly enhance our area,” Bonomo wrote.

On the bottom of the email are the names of others who endorsed the message — Jim Pierce, owner of the adjacent Panacea coffee shop building, and Theresa and Brian Pierce, who operate the coffee shop.

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Bonomo’s comments came as a shock to event organizers; per the permit application, the June 29 Pride on Main Festival has the same format as the horticultural “Whole Bloomin’ Thing Spring Festival” event held on the weekend of May 11 that’s sponsored by the Historic Frog Level Merchants Association, run by Bonomo.

Blake and Amanda Yoder co-own Cultivate Garden Shop in Frog Level with Spencer and Courtney Tetrault and participated in the Whole Bloomin’ Thing festival this year.

“In fact, it was our single best day of the year,” Blake said, adding that he sees no reason Pride on Main will be any different.

“Our position is that festivals in Frog Level that bring pedestrian foot traffic to Frog Level will consequently bring revenue to the businesses in Frog Level. Comparing it to Whole Bloomin’ Thing, we believe Pride has the same potential to uplift the businesses in Frog Level. It’s the first time this fest is coming to Frog Level, and all of the national trends suggest this will be a very good day for business.”

Numerous studies have shown that Pride-themed events can have significant impacts on local economies. The University of Minnesota said in 2018 that Twin Cities Pride contributed more than $13 million to local businesses. In Charlotte, the first post-pandemic Pride festival in 2022 brought in $8 million and 200,000 attendees. In 2023, the San Diego Tourism Authority counted $30 million in revenue and 50,000 hotel room bookings after more than 250,000 people from 100 countries attended its Pride festival.

The event, however, does present a particular challenge to Panacea; their vendors show up early in the morning, shortly before customers begin packing the popular coffee and sandwich spot. If the street’s closed, it could lead customers believe the coffee shop is too. The Pride on Main event, which is expected to draw at least 500 people per the permit application, doesn’t start until 11 a.m.

Bonomo failed to articulate those business-related concerns about the event in the email, so an overflow crowd made up mostly of LGBTQ+ advocates showed up to the May 28 Waynesville Town Council meeting where the permit application was to be considered for approval. Three spoke during the public comment session in favor of the event, including Tera McIntosh, who noted the tremendous strides the town has made in promoting inclusivity over the past year.

“As town officials, as business owners, as nonprofit leaders, we all have a due diligence because of our power — whether positional, social, financial — to act in ways that are supportive of our minority populations, and our minority friends, family and neighbors,” McIntosh said during the May 28 meeting. “The narrative we create for our youth, for tourists, for LGBTQIA persons and families currently living in our town and rural towns all along the state of North Carolina is being written in the small and big actions right here in town hall.”

Last summer, false allegations leveled on social media accused a trans person of acting improperly in the town-owned recreation center. Parallel investigations were conducted by the town and the police, both of which found no evidence of wrongdoing, but not before vicious and violent social media threats targeted members of the LGBTQ+ community along with town officials, the Waynesville Police Department and the town attorney.

In response, Council endorsed a statement of support for the LGBTQ+ community and vowed to reexamine all of its policies to ensure discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression wasn’t inadvertently present.

No opposition to the Pride on Main event was heard during the May 28 meeting; another speaker, Sam Kearney, operates a small mocktail bar in Frog Level and suggested that Bonomo’s opposition to the Pride on Main event was not the majority opinion of Frog Level business owners.

“I think that there is a mistruth that's being passed around that every single person who owns a business in Frog Level is against the Pride on Main,” Kearney said. “I just wanted to be on record saying that that is not true. I am one of many businesses that absolutely support this. We see not only the benefit for our community, but let's just talk numbers — it's a benefit for our businesses every time there is an event down in Frog Level. Businesses definitely profit and have a great time, and I want to profit and have a great time.”

The permit application approval was placed on the meeting’s consent agenda, which is used by most local governments for items deemed routine, like approval of prior meeting minutes or event applications that conform to town requirements.

Items on the consent agenda can be removed from and placed on the regular agenda for discussion during a meeting by majority vote of Council Members present. Although this does happen occasionally, it’s rare. The consent agenda allows governing boards to approve multiple agenda items in one fell swoop without wasting time discussing each item.

Along with the Pride on Main application, the consent agenda also contained permit applications for the Apple Harvest Festival, a 5K race, a Folkmoot event and another Pride event, slated for HART theater and Shelton Street in October.

Council members approved the consent agenda unanimously.

The Whole Bloomin’ Thing Spring Festival was approved in similar manner back in January.

Sarah Bea, a member of the Pride on Main planning committee, met with Frog Level Brewing employees on the morning of May 31 to discuss the event.

“Monte [Bumbernick, Frog Level’s taproom manager] brought up the language in the email, specifically ‘dumping ground,’ and said that he disagreed with that language,” Bea said. “I got the feeling [the other workers] were all supportive as well.”

Brian and Theresa Pierce reiterated in a May 31 meeting with The Smoky Mountain News that they speak only for themselves.

“We support the LGBTQIA+ community and understand the need to have an event that celebrates this community and brings everyone together,” they said. “We wish pride on Main a successful event and hope the celebration is joyful for everyone involved.”

Julia Bonomo hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment on the concerns expressed in her May 24 email.

Want to go?

Haywood County’s first LGBTQ+ Pride festival will take place across Waynesville on the weekend of June 28. Festivities will begin with a special kickoff on Friday, June 28, at The Water’n Hole Bar and Grill, 796 North Main St., with live music featuring Savannah Paige from 8-9 p.m. and a Pride dance party from 9 p.m. to midnight. On Saturday, June 29, speeches by community leaders will take place beginning at 10 a.m. before a brief parade from Waynesville’s town hall, down North Main Street to Depot Street and then down to Frog Level. The festival begins in Frog Level at 11 a.m. with various events and musical entertainment scheduled throughout the day, until ending at 4 p.m. Then, beginning at 7 p.m., a drag show will take place at Mad Anthony’s Taproom and Restaurant, 180 Legion Drive. On Sunday, visit Sorrells Street Park for “BYOGB” (Bring Your Own Garlic Bread) with Roll-Up Herbal Bar and Evenstar Yoga, beginning at noon. Vendors, sponsors and volunteers are still being accepted for the festival; for more information, visit

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