For more than three decades, South Carolina Pride Movement has been on the forefront of fighting for LGBTQ rights to live, love, work, and celebrate openly and honestly in South Carolina. SC Pride, located in Columbia, SC, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the needs of the LGBTQ+ community and its partners through educational events, entertainment, community outreach, and celebrations of diversity throughout the year. SC Pride produces each year Famously Hot SC Pride Festival, Get Lit Nighttime Parade & Concert, Outfest Columbia, and more. The Pride Festival, held in October each year on Main Street, is one of the largest outdoor festivals in the city and the largest LGBT event in the state.
The mission of South Carolina Pride Movement is to support the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender community of South Carolina; to celebrate the richness and diversity of GLBT lives; to educate the general population on LGBT issues; and to advocate for equality and inclusion in all areas of life.
Proudly Moving Forward
With steady growth through the 2000s, the organization took a bold step in 2012 and moved to Main Street, bringing the parade and festival into the center of the state and as a ‘Main Event’ in South Carolina. Under the leadership of Jeff March, now SC Pride’s longest-running President, the organization took great strides to increase awareness and attendance, bolstering numbers each year on Main. In 2012, the festival drew more than 15,000, followed by 25,000 in 2013; 35,000 in 2014; 50,000 in 2015; 65,000 in 2016; 75,000 in 2017; and 80,000 in 2018; 85,000 in 2019; and more than 85,000 in 2021 (in 2020, the organization took a year off due to COVID restrictions). Additionally, the Board implemented new events like the Aftermath, the only official Pride afterparty; the President’s Ball, a black-tie affair; Ultra VIP Lounge, a top-shelf experience during the Festival; and Outfest Columbia, a Pride-Month block party celebration. The organization brought megastars to Koger Center theater events, including Joan Rivers and Kathy Griffin.
A Little History
At a gay and lesbian community picnic held on Dreher Island in the fall of 1989, PFLAG parent Harriet Hancock worked the small crowd with a clipboard, asking if folks would be willing to march down Columbia’s Main Street in a gay march. An organizing committee developed, with Jim Blanton and Barbara Embick as the first SC Pride march co-chairs. The organizers issued nine demands for needed reforms in education, health, and civil rights—such as equal opportunity in employment, equal treatment in the military, the repeal of sodomy laws, the right to adopt children, and the monitoring of hate crimes by law enforcement.
There were many fears at that first march. Though laws prevented people from wearing masks, organizers had clown makeup artists present for those who wanted to disguise their appearance. Participants also say there was an incredible sense of energy and excitement as they stepped out onto the street. About 2000 people marched the few blocks down Main Street to the state capitol, spontaneously rushing up the capitol steps for an enormous group photo, staking claim to a political presence in the state.
The march became a movement, and the movement began to see that visibility and direct action mattered. “Sleepy little old Columbia didn’t think it had any gay people till it saw them in the streets,” says Harriet Hancock, one of the organizers of the first march. She insists that Columbia would not have passed a non-discrimination employment policy as early as it did, had it not been for the march. She explains, “The march started the conversation.”
Though the march moved to Greenville and Myrtle Beach when the statehouse was being renovated in 1997 and 1998, and the SC Pride Movement skipped 2000 and 2001 as the organization went through its own transitions, SC Pride remained a part of Columbia’s gay and lesbian history and a critical point of statewide LGBT organizing for the past 30 years. A photo of the crowd on the statehouse steps now hangs in the Harriet Hancock Center—a powerful image of an increasingly visible community and a reminder of our history.