For nearly three decades, South Carolina Pride has been on the forefront of fighting for LGBTQ rights to live, love, work and celebrate openly and honestly in South Carolina.
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.
A Little History
At a gay and lesbian community picnic held on Dreher Island in the fall of 1989, PFLAG mom 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. With no activist organization in existence and only PFLAG in the media, this was a brave move for a mostly invisible community. 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. (Though there has been extraordinary progress, twenty-five years later most of those original demands for equal treatment remain unmet.)
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.
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. Additionally, the Board implemented new events like the Aftermath, the only official Pride afterparty; the President’s Ball, a black-tie affair; and the Ultra VIP Lounge, a top-shelf experience during the Festival. The organization brought megastars to theater events, including Joan Rivers and Kathy Griffin.