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Pride Month picnic includes celebration and protest

Drum music was one of several activities visitors enjoyed Saturday during the third annual Picnic for Progress at Jackson Park Drum music was one of several activities visitors enjoyed Saturday during the third annual Picnic for Progress at Jackson Park

Hendersonville celebrated Pride Month Saturday with a picnic in the park that included food, music, numerous exhibits, speakers, a proclamation from the city and a few protesters.

“It’s bigger this year than last year. We’ve outgrown this space,” Laura Bannister, the chairperson of Hendersonville Pride, said of the third annual Picnic for Progress held at Jackson Park to celebrate Pride Month. “I love the turnout to celebrate all that we are, the bad times we’ve come through to achieve equity in Hendersonville.”
Bannister said the group might consider holding the picnic in Mills River or Fletcher next year.
She estimated around 1,000 people attended the picnic while county officials put the number closer to 500.
Regardless of the exact number, many who came to the picnic struggled to find parking along with other visitors who wanted to enjoy the park’s new all-inclusive playground and other attractions. The picnic also included 47 exhibitors, Bannister said.
A small number of people turned out to protest the event.
Holding signs that read “Love is Not Proud” and “Jesus Saves,” a group of about 10 people came to protest the picnic with some saying they thought events like the one in the park set a dangerous example for children.
“I’m personally out here to represent the God-ordained relationship between one man and one woman,” a protester who identified himself only as Patrick said. “The Pride movement is targeting children.”
Another protester, Allura Lightfoot of Hendersonville, said she and some of the others who came to protest also protest against abortion in Asheville. She said she too believes the Pride movement is dangerous for children.
At one point during the picnic, four Henderson County Sheriff’s Department deputies, park officials and Henderson County Business and Community Development Director Christopher Todd were on-hand to keep the peace between protesters and the people at the Pride event.
Deputies asked a few protesters to move from the space Pride organizers had rented for the picnic to a location in the park directly across from the picnic. Deputies physically escorted one female protester from the picnic site after she refused the officers’ requests to leave.
Park officials at another point asked both protesters and people attending the picnic to stop using sound equipment with amplification after a protestor using a loud speaker and a person from the Pride event with a bullhorn began shouting at each other.
Todd said organizers of the picnic received a permit from the county for the event because it included more than 50 people. The others were free to protest in the park outside the event space.
“As long as they are abiding by the law, they can be here,” he said of the protesters.
Bannister said she did not mind the protest or the request to stop using sound equipment.
“They have their First Amendment rights. We can’t argue with that,” she said. “I thanked the officers for doing what they do – what they do to keep the peace.”
Most people who attended the event seemed to take the protest in stride. They visited the exhibits offered by several local organizations, visited with one another, played cornhole, listened to music and ate a variety of food offered for sale by a few food trucks.
Paul Simons, who lives in both Hendersonville and Florida, said he was excited that a member of Hendersonville’s City Council was scheduled to speak.
“You don’t see a lot of that these days, especially in Florida,” he said.
Hendersonville Mayor Pro Tem Lyndsey Simpson was one of several speakers during the picnic. She read a proclamation designating June 2023 as Pride Month.
“Hendersonville welcomes the guests and residents who will gather to celebrate and honor the fight against discrimination and prejudice towards LGBTQ + individuals during the month of June 2023,” according to the proclamation. “Celebrating pride month influences awareness and provides support and advocacy for Hendersonville’s LGBTQ + community.”
Simpson in an interview after reading the proclamation said she felt it was important for her to attend the picnic.
“We want to ensure Hendersonville is a community where everyone can feel welcomed and included,” she said. “One of the ways we can do that is to be at the Pride picnic and proclaim June as Pride Month.”