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Mayor proclaims first gay pride day

The meeting room was full an hour before the start time for Thursday's City Council meeting, with supporters and opponents of a gay pride proclamation seated on either side of a center aisle like families and friends at a wedding — opponents on the right, supporters on the left. More than 200 people filled the room and speakers, including clergy members, activists and regular people, expressed their views for and against a proclamation declaring June 15 the city's first Hendersonville Pride Day.

The Rev. Travis Parker urged the council to reject the proclamation, as did Robert Henderson and several other members of Zirconia Missionary Baptist Church.

A retired Army master sergeant, of Zirconia, thanked the city for having the courage and integrity to endorse Hendersonville Pride Day.

"I strongly support it," he said. "If you start dividing people up into groups it excludes people instead of includes them."

The overflow crowd cheered those who spoke against the proclamation and those who spoke for it.

Laura Bannister celebrates as she holds proclamation.Laura Bannister celebrates as she holds proclamation."As we celebrate D-Day and the ultimate sacrifce that was given by so many of our brave men and women, isn't it ironic that what they died for was freedom," said Laura Bannister, a leader of the Hendersonville Pride Day. Turning to the proclamation opponents, she said, "I'm sorry, but you all are opposed to our freedom. I'm free to love who I choose to love."

Speakers got 1 minute and the comment period lasted until 6:07 p.m.

Mayor Barbara Volk read two proclamations, the first in remembrance of D-Day 75 years ago.

Council member Jeff Miller, the co-founder of HonorAir, told the packed room that while people were divided over the gay pride issue, all should set aside their differences and "recognize the sacrifice that went on 75 years ago today."

Next, Mayor Volk invited Bannister to stand at the front of the room for the reading of the proclamation. Bannister celebrated silently with a fist pump when the mayor reached the end of the resolution. Minutes later, she stood in front of a throng of Pride Day supporters clapping and sheering, young and old, male and female. Across Williams Street, protesters held signs condemning the Hendersonville Pride Day.

Inside, Parker, the Zirconia Baptist minister, shouted a parting word to the council.

"You just brought judgment upon the city," he said.

About an hour later, two groups that advocate for LGBTQ equality issued statements thanking the city for "sending a message that Hendersonville is a "welcoming and affirming community."

“We applaud everyone who worked to organize Hendersonville Pride Day and pass this proclamation in support of LGBTQ equality," Equality NC Executive Director Kendra R. Johnson said. "This celebration of LGBTQ people sends a powerful message to all people in the city, county, and state: that Hendersonville is a welcoming and affirming community where all people, including LGBTQ people, should be treated with dignity and respect. LGBTQ young people in the area will read this news and know that they are accepted, supported, and loved.”

Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara of the Campaign for Southern Equality said: “The decision to recognize Hendersonville Pride Day is consistent with the increasingly vocal support we’re seeing for LGBTQ equality across North Carolina and throughout the South, including in smaller cities and towns. Local advocates are doing the heroic work of calling for their hometowns to affirm and support their LGBTQ neighbors, and local elected officials are listening and taking action. We’re glad to see Hendersonville set this positive example for how we can build communities where all people are free to be who they are, and we’re hopeful that other cities across the region will follow suit.”

EARLIER COVERAGE:

 

Police have made plans for crowd control when people gather tonight, possibly in the low hundreds, to support and oppose a gay pride proclamation on the Hendersonville City Council's agenda.

The city announced Wednesday that it was moving the meeting from City Hall to the City Operations Center on Williams Street to accommodate the expected crowd. Police plan extra coverage and have urged leaders of the pro- and anti-Hendersonville Pride proclamation.

"If they want to picket on a public sidewalk they can," City Manager John Connet said. "We'll have one added officer" in addition to one that always attends council meetings. "But if others are needed, officers that are on patrol can come in." Organizers opposed to the gay pride resolution notified the city that they expect to have more than 50 people.

"We are aware that there is going to be a sizable crowd at that meeting and we have addressed that," Chief Herbert Blake said. "We will have adequate staff, more than usual." The department has plans to react to "any circumstances where there may be competing constituencies in the same area. We've reached out to both sides, we've had conversations with leaders of both sides. They're not out there looking for a conflict. They're out there expressing their First Amendment views of how they feel."

The mayor's proclamation notes that in June 1969, patrons of the Stonewall Inn stood up to police harassment, in what became a turning point for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual community. The Hendersonville LGBTQ community "strives to create a welcoming community for all people, regardless of sexual orientation," the proclamation says. LGBTQ residents "contribute to the expression of diversity in the community, ... work alongside us ... and contribute to the success of our economic development (and) donate their time, talents and labor" to organizations and schools. They attend church and "express the same range of faith traditions as other members of our community."

The proclamation ends by declaring June 15 Hendersonville Pride Day, the first ever in the city. On that day, organizers plan a picnic at Patton Park and two free performances by the Atlanta Gay Men's Chorus at Trinity Presbyterian Church.

"I just ask for peace and calm and don't engage them," Laura Bannister said of the protesters.

President of the LGBT Democrats, Bannister is one of the organizers of the Hendersonville Pride Day on June 15. In order to make movement non-partisan, she organized a new group, called Stonewall 50, after the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. "We have 10 clergy and their congregations that are supportive of this and plan to come to this meeting and come to the picnic."

A retired landcape designer, Bannister moved to Hendersonville 3½ years ago from Washington, D.C. She said she never expected the resolution to cause such a furor. "I don't think it's something she can take off the agenda," she said of Mayor Barbara Volk. "We've got lots of people that are going to show up. When they pass it, we'll all stand and clap and leave."

Nancy Glowacki, a progressive activist who received an email Wednesday about the anti-Pride Day protest, said that City Attorney Sam Fritschner had called Bannister to warn her about the expected protesters. "His advice to her was to tell everyone (supporting the Pride Day proclamation) just to be quiet, don't wear provocative T-shirts. Just go right in and sit down."

Travis Parker, minister of Zirconia Missionary Baptist Church for the past 14 years, spearheaded the anti-proclamation petition through change.org. On Thursday afternoon it had 641 signers. Parker said he expects around 200 people to show up to oppose the proclamation. He and his congregants oppose the proclamation "because of what we believe," he said. "What we believe is under attack. The reason that we're going to the City Council is because they told us that Mayor Volk is going to make a proclamation concerning June 15 and she's doing it on behalf of the city and she's saying that all of Hendersonville is in agreement with this, which we're not. That's our position."

Parker, who lives outside the city limits, said he is not protesting the LGBT community in general, just the implication through the proclamation that all of Hendersonville supports the gay pride day.

"Nobody is coming to say they can't have a picnic," he said. "This is America. They can do whatever they want to do."

He said he has urged his church members not to be adversarial.

"I have been on the phone discouraging some that might have a militant view from attending," he said. "All I'm worried about is the mayor and her proclaiming this to be a Hendersonville Gay Pride Day. If that's what she believes, she's fine. All I'm asking her to do is don't proclaim Hendersonvlle to have a Gay Pride Day."

The change.org petition opposing the resolution had 641 virtual signers.

"If this is allowed in your town one time, these people will take over your town and city the same as Asheville allowed. This is not the values of the county, " wrote a petition signer, Jimmy Hodge of Mill Spring.