Small Town Pride events set for June in Chapel Hill and Carrboro

CHAPEL HILL — (June 1, 2021)— As Pride Month 2021 begins, the Chapel Hill Orange County Visitors Bureau is celebrating the legacy of the LGBTQ community in this quietly bustling town most often known for its university scene But leaders and influencers who lived the history of LGBTQ rights in this area know Chapel Hill, and surrounding Orange County towns such as Carrboro and Hillsborough, to be on the forefront of progressive, inclusive thinking. Leaders welcome visitors to experience all Orange County has to offer during the month of June — or anytime.
“I’ve had friends from out of state joke that I live in ‘Appalachia’,” notes Hillsborough resident Steven Petrow, Washington Post columnist and author of the new book, Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old. “Of course, once they visit, they realize they’re 100 percent wrong. Orange County is home to James Beard Award-winning restaurants. UNC, the oldest public university in the U.S. is here, and we’re home to many of this country’s best writers — Allan Gurganus, Lee Smith, Daniel Wallace, Jill McCorkle and so many more. This is a place where, as a queer man, I feel perfectly at home. That’s true equality.”
A History of Gay and Lesbian Leadership
The Chapel Hill area has a long history of electing openly gay and lesbian officials, beginning in 1987 with Chapel Hill Town Council Member Joe Herzenberg. Mike Nelson, the first openly gay candidate elected mayor in North Carolina, led the town of Carrboro from 1995 to 2004, and Orange County is currently home to half of the state's gay and lesbian elected officials.
“I always feel welcome anywhere I go in Carrboro or Chapel Hill — and this was the case before I became mayor! — and able to talk openly about my family and my life," Nelson says. "This is not the case in many communities, and we recognize that we are so fortunate to feel so welcome and a part of the community here."
Earlier this year, all local governing boards in Orange County’s communities voted to pass an ordinance broadly protecting members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination. A key champion of the legislation was Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle, the state's first openly lesbian mayor. "Our community has a long-standing reputation as the most welcoming place in the state for the LGBT community," she says.

Mayor Lavelle also spoke out against recent legislation filed by North Carolina Republican lawmakers that would bar transgender children and young adults from participating on women's sports teams in school. The House speaker dropped the proposed legislation after a public outcry.

“Like all critical issues in front of the General Assembly, once again our LGBTQ community made its voice heard, working to remind state leaders that everyone deserves respect, dignity, and equality,” said Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle. 
Love is Love
Mayor Lavelle and her wife, Alicia Stemper, were the first gay couple to receive a marriage certificate in Orange County, after having two previous ceremonies of union prior to the legalization of gay marriage in North Carolina. Theirs was only one of a number of partnerships recognized, however. Damon Seils, a Carrboro alderman, explains that Carrboro has the oldest domestic partner registry in North Carolina. "We declared October 10 to be Marriage Equality Day in celebration of the October 10, 2014, court decisions that brought marriage equality to North Carolina,” he said. Chapel Hill also has a registry.
Visit the New — Inclusive — South
Whether you’re ambling along our scenic downtown streets or rambling through the wooded hills, you’ll find yourself in a unique Southern community. “It epitomizes ‘The New South’,” says Jen Jones, former director of communications for EqualityNC. “It’s a place of the future that welcomes diversity, embraces inclusivity, and is a gateway for native Tar Heels, wayward travelers and new transplants alike. Chapel Hill-Carrboro remains one of the most LGBTQ-friendly areas in North Carolina and across the South.” Click Visit Chapel Hill's LGBT Travel.  
Petrow agrees. “I travel all over the country and gays and lesbians are ‘tolerated’ more and more just about everywhere, which is great. But here we’re accepted,” he says. “I’ve looked for a place like this to call home my entire life and now I don’t plan to leave until my toes point up at the stars."

Small Town Pride Is On! - Carrboro and Chapel Hill Celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride Month with a number of events

Feel Small Town Pride this June! The towns of Carrboro and Chapel Hill are collaborating to show LGBTQ+ Pride, and to affirm community values ensuring that all residents, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are treated with respect and dignity. Through a mix of in-person and virtual events, Small Town Pride will promote equality and celebrate diversity and acceptance in the towns of Carrboro and Chapel Hill. It will involve the entire community, with local businesses, artists, volunteers and community partners. Everyone is welcome!

The Visitors Bureau will provide pride sunglasses and Rainbow Ram will make an appearance at the Dance Party and Food Truck Rodeo on June 24 at the Carrboro Town Commons.  More information to come. 

For information contact:  Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.  501 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC.  Laurie Paolicelli, Director.