Western North Carolina is home to an estimated 35,000 people who identify as LGBTQ. Family values run deep in our community. Roughly 10,000 of us live with a committed partner. A fifth of these are raising children together. We are a community that values education, in spite of the barriers we face. A recent survey at UNC Asheville revealed that a third of the students don’t identify with conventional binary, heterosexual stereotypes. We lack statistics on LGBTQ joblessness,homelessness and poverty, but we know that our community is particularly hard hit, especially the estimated 6,000 transgender people living in our midst.
In rural communities, people who are stigmatized face an especially challenging and lonely life. They are doubly isolated, by their identity and their geography. It can be hard for them to find support, safety, and friendship. There are many organizations and groups that seek to serve them, but they face a similar problem: they tend to be small in scale and budget. How to reach their audience? How to garner the resources they need? Blue Ridge Pride seeks to support this community in partnership with the many wonderful people and organizations who are only too eager to help.
To promote equality, safety, and quality of life for western North Carolina’s LGBTQ and allied communities, working as a united community through advocacy, celebration, education and service.
An inclusive community, where people are embraced for who they are and feel welcomed to engage and contribute.
How We Operate
Blue Ridge Pride traces its roots back to 2009, when the community banded together to hold its first festival on a public space in Martin Luther King Park. For the next ten years, the organization focused on two annual events: the Blue Ridge Pride Festival and the Miss Blue Ridge Pride Pageant. In 2018, the board voted to expand our mission, programs and geographic reach.
While the festival remains core to our mission, we have expanded into many new types of events. Public events play a crucial role in society. They can unite or segregate. They can foster confrontation or encourage reconciliation. We believe that, as the world grows smaller, it is critical that we learn to share space together gracefully. We seek to create shared spaces that are welcoming to all. We seek to foster dialogues that are honest and challenging, but respectful and constructive. It’s a fine line to walk, but we believe that it is worth the effort.
- Blue Ridge Pride Festival – Our annual, family-friendly fall celebration of WNC’s LGBTQ community and our wonderful allies. It attracts 14,000 to 18,000 people.
- Welcoming WNC Procession – A parade of people rather than floats. We walk to give voice and visibility to all who aspire to a western North Carolina that is welcoming and equitable to all.
- Movies & Mixer Series – A summer film series coupled with a community mixer.
- LGBTQ Story Slam – Community members and allies share their most personal experiences.
- MX Pride Pageant – Showcases people who explore and express gendered identity in all its wonderful forms.
- Event Partnerships and Collaborations – We are working with other events, organizations, and communities in an effort to break down needless barriers.
Virtual Community Center
This year, we are launching what we believe to be the first 100% virtual LGBTQ center in the country. We hope that it becomes a model for other rural communities. Some of things it will feature in its first release:
- Welcoming Calendar – A searchable calendar of events, meetings, seminars, and entertainment that target and/or welcome our community;
- Welcoming Directories – Directories of welcoming service providers, support groups, social groups, employers, and organizations;
- Welcoming Speakers – A catalog of locally available seminars and speakers that address issues of importance to our community and allies;
- Welcoming Communities – Pages devoted to building a more welcoming WNC: Welcoming Faith, Welcoming Schools, Welcoming Sports, Welcoming Healthcare, Welcoming Workplaces.
Our goal is to keep this resource free to the community. We want groups and non-profit service providers to be able to post their information without worrying about cost.
Community Partner Fund
In 2019, we launched the Blue Ridge Pride Community Partnership Fund. All funds are set aside for local groups that demonstrably support western North Carolina’s LGBTQ and allied communities In our first year, we gave out $7,500 in grants. The goal of the fund is threefold:
- Make it easy for qualifying organizations – especially small ones – to apply for financial support.
- Make it easy for local donors to support a greater variety of local groups and services.
- Create a sense of shared community and a greater awareness of all the groups that support it.
We maintain a public posting of grants awarded. We are starting small, but we hope to see this program grow considerably. Local organizations have found creative ways to support this program. Green Man Brewery committed all profits from one of its brands, LUV ALL, to the fund. The Aloft Asheville Downtown and Fine Arts Theatre collaborated to support the fund through the Movie and Mixer Series. This is the sort of coming together that we dream of.
We have started with a single project. However, we are exploring other collaborations, such as a Safe Public Spaces project with area businesses. We are also collaborating with Campaign for Southern Equality to support our local community of queer artists.
Blue Ridge Pride Center, Inc. was formed in 2009 by a group who saw the need for a community-driven organization that would appeal to the diverse LGBTQ communities of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. In October of 2009, we held our first festival at Asheville’s Martin Luther King Jr. Park . Approximately 2,000 people came out to the event on a rainy day to celebrate and to learn more about our community and the resources available to us. During the next 10 years, the organization focused chiefly on two annual events, the fall Pride Festival and the annual Miss Blue Ridge Pride Pageant.
In 2018, the board voted to expand the organization’s mission and programs. It briefly attempted a partnership to establish a brick-and-mortar LGBTQ Community Center in downtown Asheville. Unfortunately, such centers demand an endowment far beyond our resources. What is more, a physical center can only serve those living close to Asheville. What of the rest of WNC?
The Fine Print
Legal & Financial Records
Blue Ridge Pride Center, Inc. is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization and with the Secretary of State of North Carolina. (Employer Identification Number: 26-4272258).