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Fortifying Equality: New LGBTQIAA organization holds kickoff event this weekend

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Forty-five years ago this Saturday, police raided the downtown New York gay hub Stonewall Inn. They lined up patrons, requested their IDs, and forced anyone dressed in women’s clothing to enter the bathroom with a female officer to prove their gender. Such raids had become a normal occurrence at the Stonewall; however, this particular evening the raid came unannounced. Normally compliant frequenters rebelled, which incited a riot. Since that fateful day, June has long been associated with gay pride.

ryan burris

Ryan Burris serves as chair for Cape Fear Equality. Courtesy photo

Staying true to June tradition, Cape Fear Equality (CFE) will hold its inaugural event this Saturday, June 28th. It was formed after Wilmington Pride fizzled due to issues with maintaining steady participation. Equality NC, the state’s largest LGBTQIAA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual, and ally)  advocacy group, held a “Get Engaged” event in Wilmington this past March, which sparked newfound interest in the cause. The Raleigh-based group’s efforts have resulted in major Affordable Health Care providors extending their benefits to same-sex couples in NC. CFE was derived as an affiliate of the organization and stands as one of two regional incarnations of Equality NC; the other being Equality Foothills in Hickory.

June normally marks Wilmington Pride Week; however, in light of the organization’s inception, the event was omitted this year. “We felt as though hosting a pride week, as many organizations do in NC, that our most important goal would be halted,” former Wilmington Pride president and CFE chair Ryan Burris explains. With 15 Pride celebrations already occurring throughout the state, CFE wanted to distinguish its beginnings by reaching a broader audience. They intend to cultivate relationships with local organizations, which will eextend their focus to betterment of the Cape Fear area as a whole. 

A food drive will generate a “hands on” element.  “We want to reach out to our community, serve side-by-side [with] those who [may] oppose us, [and provide help] for the less fortunate,” Burris continues.

The kickoff event, to be hosted at St. Jude Metropolitan Community Church, will serve as a food drive for the church. St. Jude routinely provides the organization with a meeting space and is a LGBTQIAA-friendly church.

“We want to provide as much community service as we possibly can,” Burris tells. “We aim to be known as an outlet for the LGBTQIAA community in the Cape Fear region to provide care, services and resources.  In the future, we plan on working with other local organizations [to set up] a youth support group, and also hopefully an LGBTQIAA center for our area.”

The CFE also will be a part of continuing the annual toy drive held in December, which has long been associated with Wilmington Pride. The holiday celebration collects items for Duke’s Partners in Caring, which helps children infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS. “Last year we had nearly 300 in attendance and collected over 1,400 toys,” Burris elaborates.

Activists will be on hand at the kickoff event  to register voters, and entertainment will come from musicians Susan Savia, Chris James and DJ Lil Mandy. Guests will include executive director of Equality NC Chris Sgro and the former chief of police for Latta, SC, Crystal Moore. (Moore was fired by the town’s mayor due to her sexual orientation.)

There will be an array of political speakers; booths will be set up to showcase support from those unable to attend. Ernie Ward, a hopeful for NC Senate District 8, will be among those in attendance. “I think we need to take a look at the damaging effects of Amendment One and the problem of bullying in our schools,” Ward proclaims. “Fairness and equality, whether economic or social, are vitally important to me.”

Senate candidate for District 9, Elizabeth Redenbaugh, who recently won the John F. Kennedy in Courage Award for her work on the New Hanover County Board of Education, will also speak at the event.“After listening to a sermon series about the importance of treating everyone with dignity, value and respect and seeing the way in which our legislature neglected all three of these virtues, I decided to enter public service in the hopes that we can all come together and create a greater North Carolina,” Redenbaugh expresses. “Throughout history, Americans have fought for racial, ethnic, gender, and, now, sexual orientation equality. In order to achieve equality, we must stop separating ourselves according to our differences…”

The kickoff celebration will be preceded by Wilmington’s first annual AIDS Walk Wilmington at Maides Park (1101 Manly Avenue). The walk will observe National HIV Testing Day, which occurs on June 27th. The events work off each other by encouraging attendees to take part in both.

The AIDS walk is being spearheaded by Richelle Fonville and Latesha Sidburry. The two met after Sidburry saw a presentation by Fonville, an HIV/AIDS health educator. They quickly bonded given that Sidburry had family members who had passed away from the disease. The crusaders hope to raise $1,000, with monies benefitting Duke’s Partners in Caring.

Registration and a light breakfast will jumpstart the event at 9 a.m. Testimonies will be given regarding the horrors of the disease, and balloons will be released in memory of countless AIDS victims. Throughout the walk, music will be provided by Big B from Coast 97.3. As well, there will be kid-friendly activities and free, confidential HIV testing. An educational session will be held after the walk, wherein health care providers and people suffering from the disease will field questions. Folks can learn more on their website ( 

 “Our main goal is to cease the spread of HIV by breaking the silence and talking about it,” Fonville describes. “Sex is a taboo subject to discuss but we strongly believe that communication is key to fight this 100 percent preventable disease. We look forward to hosting an event in December in observance of World AIDS Day, and then [conducting] a bigger walk next year.”


Cape Fear Equality Kick Off

St. Jude Metropolitan Community Church • 19 N. 26th St.
Saturday, June 28th, 12 p.m.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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