Charlotte Pride braces for record-smashing crowds to protest HB2

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In the aftermath of the state law that restricts LGBTQ rights, the city of Charlotte, N.C. is gearing up for a 25th annual Pride parade that will make the prior celebrations look like a dog and pony show.

Calls to participate in the festival are exceeding last year, when 120,000 marchers took part. Corporate sponsors are clamoring to get on the bandwagon, including local giants Bank of America and Duke Energy. The police department says it will put its officers on the highest alert possible for fear of protests and clashes between marchers and antigay demonstrators. And while about 20 percent of those joining the crowds last year hailed from other states, an even greater influx of out of towners is anticipated this year because of House Bill 2.

HB2 prevents North Carolina cities from enacting their own local ordinances, as Charlotte did, to extend civil rights protections to citizens, and bars transgender individuals from using any public bathrooms that do not match the gender on their birth certificates.

“We’re inviting people to join in, to show that there are plenty of average North Carolinians opposed to this law, not just some liberal elite,” Matt Hirschy of Equality NC, told the Charlotte Observer. “This year, we and allies have something to coalesce around and a reason to take a stand and fight.”

And not just one reason. Wells Fargo, Fifth Third Bank and several other contingents reportedly plan to honor the 49 victims of the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it cracks 200,000 attendance,” declared Joshua Burford of the University of North Carolina’s Charlotte’s Multicultural Resource Center. “I think a lot of people will show up just to make the point that they are not scared.”

Pride, which is a two-day affair, is a big moneymaker for Charlotte. A study by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority pegged the local economic impact at $11.9 million, including $7.2 million in direct visitor spending.

And Fifth Third Bank understands the value of its LGBTQ customers and workers. “We have a big presence in that (Charlotte) market and so there’s big involvement,” said Laura Passerallo, the bank’s regional marketing director. “It’s important to be fully supportive of (LGBTQ) employees in the community. … It’s important for our employees to know we value diversity. It’s important for customers and the community to know as well.”

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