New group planning Johnson City LGBTQ parade, festival

A recently-formed nonprofit organization has been working to build bridges to create more inclusive communities for LGBTQ residents across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

TriPrideTN, which formed in October, aims to celebrate the LGBTQ community and welcome their allies, supportive nonprofit organizations, faith congregations and local businesses.

“TriPride stands for a vision across the Tri-Cities where all individuals — regardless of lifestyle or gender presentation — are welcome to be full community members,” board member Chris Dagenhart said. “This is about the whole community. This is not about LGBTQ people trying to separate themselves, it’s the opposite. We’re trying to come together as a full community.”

The group’s primary goal, according to its members, was to get the ball rolling on the first annual TriPride Parade and Festival in downtown Johnson City on Sept. 15. The parade will start at the corner of Commerce and North Roan streets at noon, and end at Founders Park.

After networking with local businesses and city government, the organization was able to get approval for road closures at last week’s City Commission meeting.

Organizers said part of the aim of the upcoming annual event is to increase the LGBTQ community’s visibility in a region that needs more work in terms of inclusivity, according to a report last year by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. But after taking a look at the LGBTQ pride festivals and progress made in Nashville, Knoxville and Asheville, N.C., founder George Chamoun asked, “If they can do it, why can’t we?”

“The overarching vision is to see the Tri-Cities become recognized as a more-welcoming community for everyone, and in this case, the LGBTQ community,” Chamoun said. “Visibility is important, which is why we chose to do it in Founders Park. I think having it in a public space is really important.

“Knoxville and Nashville’s pride events are a concerted and focused effort. We just want to have one free public event per year, and hopefully, everyone in town will see our nonprofit volunteers and see there’s no personal motivation other than making the region a better, more inclusive place to live.”

New Beginnings, an LGBTQ night club and bar in Johnson City that Chamoun said has been a long-time safe space for the community, was one of the first business sponsors and supporters of the newly-formed nonprofit organization’s efforts.

Based on his engagement with community members across the region, Chamoun said the LGBTQ community and allies have wanted an organized event like this for a while.

By working to “heal some of the divisiveness by bringing people together to share different perspectives and experiences,” Chamoun said the organization can tap into the positive aspects that make Johnson City and the surrounding region LGBTQ-friendly in order to make more progress in terms of inclusiveness.

He said he hopes to see the annual event branch out to other areas in the region in the coming years and looks forward to working with organizations and individuals who share common goals.

“The plan for the first year is to have it in Founders Park, and the next year is to have it in Kingsport and then in Bristol. We’re hoping it’ll become a regional event,” Chamoun said. “When we all work together toward building a more inclusive community, it’s good for business and good for people.”

For more information on how to donate, upcoming fundraising events and meetings, visit www.tripridetn.org or the group’s Facebook page, where more information about the upcoming Sept. 15 festival can be found.