• 100,000 people celebrate Charlotte Pride without issues

    By: Elsa Gillis

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The colors and costumes were vibrant, and the energy electric, as thousands filled the streets of uptown Sunday for Charlotte's Pride Parade.

     More than 100,000 people were expected to attend this weekend's Charlotte Pride Festival.

    "It's a fun time,” participant Tracey Russ said. “It's also a celebration of rights and achievement of rights that are important still to be protected."

    It was a giant party down Tryon Street, but surrounding the parade route, and in the middle of it, were Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, and barriers noticeably protecting the crowds.

    "I've seen officers on every corner," one paradegoer said.

    "On bikes, blocking off streets and everything, to make sure everyone's safe, so yes, we've seen a lot of security," another participant said.

    Officers on scene said the Charlotte Pride Festival went smoothly all weekend. Officers monitored a small group of protesters near the parade stand who remained peaceful.

    Not a single person told Channel 9 they felt unsafe, even with recent events across the nation and world.

    "Charlottesville is on my mind and I'm sure the minds of many people here," Russ said.

    "That's why a celebration is so important because we need to move back to love,” Mike Wirth said. “There's so much hate."

    "If you're scared to come to be yourself, then what's the point?" Paige Laughsch asked.

    Thousands of supporters of the LGBT community attended this weekend’s festival.

    With the festival, more police officers were on duty keeping uptown safe.

    "It's very important you know in this time you know that we actually come together as a whole," resident Coleman Crooks said.

    [GALLERY: Charlotte Pride festival and parade]

    Sunday's parade started at 9th and North Tryon streets and ended at the judge's stand on Trade and Tryon streets. 

    People at the festivities said they were happy to see the increased security, especially after violent protests both in Charlottesville, Virginia, and across the nation.

    "It's always good to just come out and do this despite what's happened, despite security problems or what people are scared of or what might happen,” Jamie Williams said. “It's great to see people coming out and doing it anyway."

    Pride banners went up for the event Friday morning.

    [TRAFFIC: Charlotte Pride parade and festival road closures]

    Beforehand, police said they did not expect any violent or extremist groups to disrupt the festival. 

    "Things have changed around the world,” said Maj. Gerald Smith, of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. 

    Police officers said they are constantly changing tactics to protect large crowds.

    Smith said the police department was only aware of one group of peaceful protesters who planned to show up this weekend.

    "We've worked diligently to put together a plan that we think will increase safety significantly up here,” Smith said.

    In June, Charlotte Pride organizers told a group called Deplorable Pride it wouldn't be allowed to participate in the parade because of its political views.

    Deplorable Pride protested during the parade.

    Deplorable Pride is a group of conservative LGBT supporters who said they were denied a float in the parade because of their support for President Trump.

    “The Republican party under Trump is a completely different party,” said Chris O’Shea, of Deplorable Pride. “We're completely open-minded and pro-LGBT, so this is an opportunity for us to be out here, express our right to free speech and show support for the LGBT community as Trump supporters.”

    Charlotte Pride sent Channel 9 a statement saying that it reserves the right to deny groups which do not reflect the mission, vision, and values of the organization.

    In the past, the festival has denied organizations with anti-LGBT views or with particular religious or public policy stances.

    The CMPD said it contacted the Deplorable Pride organizer to make sure the protest would be peaceful.

    “At the last event, you guys probably saw pictures of officers with rifles walking around at the ready. You'll see that at the pride parade as well, along with other things, to be able to mitigate any threats or dangers," Smith said.

    Channel 9 found on Facebook that Charlotte antifa planned to protest if extremist groups from the right showed up.

    “The Charlotte pride parade is this weekend and while it should be a wonderful and peaceful event we as a group opposed to bigots must be prepared for a possible counter protest from the right. If you're going this weekend be prepared to rally should the bigots show up,” the group posted.

    The nationwide antifa group said it fights fascism and racism, and some members have recently engaged in violent clashes across the country, including in North Carolina.

    “We monitor social media. We monitor our intelligence outlets very carefully,” Smith said.

    Charlotte Pride organizers said they support everyone's First Amendment rights, but beyond peaceful protests, they expect the weekend to go smoothly, as do the Charlotte residents Channel 9 spoke with in uptown.

    “The pride festival has always attracted protests,” said Matt Comer, of Charlotte Pride.

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