TriPride founder urges attendees to ignore protests and detractors
As Johnson City gets set for the first LGBTQ parade and festival of its kind in the region, organizers have been prepared for negative backlash from religious fundamentalists and from far-right organizations.
Saturday’s TriPride Parade and Festival will likely attract protesters, which could include members of the League of the South, a white nationalist, fascist organization designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.
The group, which was present at last year’s violent clashes in Charlottesville that left one anti-racist counter-protester dead, also plans plan to gather later in Elizabethton at Sycamore Shoals on Sept. 29 to protest the toppling of the University of North Carolina’s “Silent Sam” Confederate statue.
Tom Pierce, chairman of the League of the South, said last month some members of the organization are planning to gather along TriPride’s parade route with Confederate and Tennessee flags in protest of the group’s message of inclusion.
The arrival of the far-right organization in the local area has attracted the attention of hundreds of anti-fascist organizers and activists on social media who may plan to counter-protest the group at both events. TriPrideTN founder George Chamoun, however, said he hopes that attendees can ignore them and keep the mood “celebratory.”
“They show up at Knox Pride every year. This is a pretty standard thing for these people to show up at pride events,” he said, adding that this event will have safety guidelines similar to pride events elsewhere.
Original guidelines released Wednesday prohibited containers of any kind, including bags, purses, fanny packs and backpacks, except in the case of medical supplies. Those rules were revised shortly after releasing them on social media, Chamoun said.
“The biggest pushback we got was about food and bags,” he said, adding that people will be allowed to bring small bags and fanny packs or purses in the festival, as well as small snacks.
“It’s not going to be intrusive, just opening and checking a bag and telling attendees to go on in,” he said of searches.
Chamoun stressed that anything deemed a potential safety risk will be prohibited.
“Anything that can be used as a weapon will not be allowed in the festival,” he said Wednesday. “I think the good news is that the Johnson City Police Department has a good plan in place and we feel comfortable that they’re going to keep things safe and orderly.”
Overall, Chamoun said the local community has been largely supportive, despite some detractors.
“The overwhelming consensus has been supportive. If 5,000 come and there are 15 or 20 protesters, I think that’s OK,” he said. “We just encourage people to ignore them and enjoy the festival.”
Here are the guidelines for the parade and festival:
• All items are subject to search.
• Small bags such as fanny packs, purses or clutches are allowed.
• Large bags and backpacks will not be allowed. Please have transparent bags or backpacks if you have big things in tow. The JCPD will provide clear bags with handles as needed.
• Diaper bags and bags for children’s needs are allowed.
• Medical supplies will be allowed.
• Pre-packaged snacks such as protein bars, trail mix and cookies will be permitted in a clear plastic bag. Snacks for toddlers, including milk, are permitted. Homemade meals will not be allowed.
• Outside beverages are not permitted. TriPride, along with many exhibitors, will be giving out free water to any who wants it.
• Blankets and folding chairs are allowed.
• Umbrellas are prohibited. In the event of rain, events will be under the Farmers Market Pavilion.
• Objects that can be used as weapons will not be permitted in the event.
• Decorative masks are prohibited (medical ones are allowed), but face painting is permitted.
• Only service animals are allowed.
• A portion of downtown streets will close at noon Friday in preparation for Saturday’s parade, which begins at noon. Streets will reopen at the conclusion of the festival.
• Access to businesses along the parade route will be maintained but patrons may be required to pass through access points.
• An area will be designated for demonstrators.
Here is the schedule of events following the parade:
TriPride Entertainment schedule:
1:30-2:30 p.m. Amythyst Kiah
2:45-3:25 p.m. Drag Show
3:50-4:30 p.m. Big SON
5-6 p.m. Annabelle’s Curse
Other events include:
• An all-ages variety show at The Willow Tree Coffeehouse and Music Room, 216 E. Main St., from 7-10 p.m. Celebrate TriPride with poetry, storytelling and music.
• An official after-party will start at New Beginnings, 2910 Bristol Highway, at 8 p.m. for those 18-up. The cover is $10 for 21-up and $15 for 18-21. Those sporting a TriPride wristband enter at a $3 discount.
The celebration isn’t over on Sunday – enjoy brunch at New Beginnings beginning at 11 a.m. with a drag show beginning at 1 p.m. for those 18-up. Admission is $13.