Port City Pride, now in its third year, takes its mission of celebrating LGBTQIA culture seriously. Included in this weekend’s jam-packed schedule of events is a rainbow color-coded bar crawl, a drag show, a beach outing, and a fashion show aboard USS NC, among other offerings. “My hope every year is just to bring more of the community together,” says Port City Pride chair Joey Hall. “It’s really a time of fun and celebration of individuality and acceptance.”
That 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of Stonewall uprising makes this year’s event all the more special. In 1969, when members of New York City’s gay community spontaneously gathered at a Greenwich Village gay club to protest an early-morning police raid, it set off six days of violent clashes. Individuals identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lived largely on the margins, afraid what might happen if they wore their identity too loudly. Today, the prevalence of events like Port City Pride is proof that things have gotten better—to an extent.
“I believe Pride festivals everywhere are a chance for the community to celebrate what has been overcome and work toward a more inclusive society,” says Shelly O’Rourke, outreach coordinator for the Frank Harr Foundation. Frank Harr is a nonprofit that provides safe spaces and resources for LGBTQIA individuals throughout our area. O’Rourke specifically points out diversity in Wilmington’s queer population.
“It is important for the community at large to see that the LGBTQIA community is no different than any other segment of society. Not until all people realize everyone should be treated with dignity and respect will we have true equality.”
That equality includes access to health care. Despite existing protections, LGBTQIA individuals face disturbing rates of health care discrimination—from harassment by providers to being turned away by hospitals, pharmacists and doctors. A 2018 poll revealed nearly a sixth of LGBTQIA adults have experienced discrimination at the doctor’s office, while a fifth say have avoided seeking medical care out of fear of discrimination. The result is a health care system woefully unprepared to care for its population. A town-hall style event on Thursday night at The Foxes Boxes will explore the topic further.
For community members like Diana Clark, who moved to Wilmington in 2016, Port City Pride represents an opportunity for the city to put its best foot forward. “People who aren’t familiar with Wilmington’s history are quick to judge what they perceive as a lack of queer culture,” Clark says. “Even in the short time I’ve been here, the growth and change I’ve witnessed has been genuinely incredible.”
Ibiza Nightclub general manager Charles Smith, whose club is hosting a pair of events to celebrate Pride weekend, similarly sees change afoot. He arrived a decade ago without much of a united front or gay scene to connect to. “There wasn’t an organized Pride group,” he admits, “or if there was, I don’t recall it being well-known.” His club, too, has undergone what he described as a paradigm shift. “In 2001, there was a greater need for there to be designated gay bars for the LGBTQIA community to socialize and feel safe. Today, it’s still important, but other establishments are more gay friendly, and our demographics are reflective of that.”
How demographic changes will manifest in the greater Wilmington community remains to be seen, but Hall is optimistic about the future—and the future of his event. “There are LGBTQIA folks we do not even know in the area and there are still more coming,” Hall says. “The community itself has become more visible and has a voice that is being heard. I believe the ones that are coming along now will bring more exciting ideas to future Port City Pride events.”
Here is a rundown of events for folks to celebrate this Labor Day weekend.
Thursday, August 29
Rainbows, Doctors and Unicorns: Medicaid Advances LGBTQ+ Health
6 p.m. – 8 p.m., Free
Foxes Boxes, 622 N. 4th St.
The NC AIDS Action Network, SAGE Wilmington, and the Frank Harr Foundation host a town hall event discussing the importance of Medicaid for the LGBTQIA community. Hors d’oeuvre are provided, and early registrants will be treated to a free drink.
Friday, August 30
Rainbow Road Bar Crawl
6 p.m. – 11 p.m., $5 early-bird; $10 day-of
Beginning at The Husk, 31 S. Front St.
Participants at Port City Pride’s official kickoff will be divided into six groups, each with a leader to guide them to the crawl’s six downtown bars: The Husk, KGB, Tavern Law, Tails Piano Bar, Pour House and Ibiza. Registration takes place on the back patio at The Husk, and all crawlers receive a discount off their ticket to Ibiza’s drag party later on in the night.
Drag Me to Ibiza Pride Edition
9 p.m., $15-$30, 18+
Ibiza Nightclub, 118 Market St.
Ibiza’s popular Friday night drag party gets kicked up a notch with a performance by legendary Miami drag queen TP Lords. Joining Lords onstage is Wilmington’s own “Bitch Goddess of the Port City,” Tara Nicole Brooks. Ebony Valentino will host, with a VIP meet-and-greet, 10:30 p.m. – 11:30 p.m., and the show starting at midnight.
Tickets are available at the door, though Smith recommends buying online, as advanced purchase satisfies Ibiza’s private-club membership policy and guarantees entry before 11 p.m.
Saturday, August 31
Port City Pride Block Party
12 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., Free
Castle St., between 5th and 8th streets
Nic Carey emcees the third annual block party, which welcomes vendors stretched across three blocks of downtown’s funky Castle Street. Six food trucks will serve a variety of local goods (including vegan options). Entertainment will take place on the main stage, with music provided by DJ Bobby Zee, and Laura McClean and Calamity. Wilmington Latin Dance, drag queens Tara Nicole Brooks, Tatianna Matthews, Ebony Valentino, Rashmia Biosh and King Terrell, also are on the roster.
Also on hand will be the Frank Harr Foundation’s two tents. Family-friendly events will take place in the children’s tent, with storytelling, arts and crafts, face painting and more. Plus, there will be a tent from SAGE Wilmington of the Cape Fear Coast (the nonprofit is dedicated to providing a haven for LGBTQIA seniors), with fans, water, and plenty of seating for revelers to take a break and cool off in the shade. As always, the foundation will provide information about local programs serving the LGBTQIA community, including peer education on safe sex, drug prevention, and assistance for teens facing bullying and homelessness.
Women’s Pride Party
4 p.m. – 9 p.m., $10
The Rooftop Bar at N. Front Theatre,
21 N. Front St., 5th Fl.
The 15-year-old social group Port City Carolina Girls hosts a lady-centric bash, with music from Raleigh duo Sayer McShane starting at 5 p.m. All women are invited to celebrate, as are transgender friends and gay men. (Straight men are welcome if accompanied by a female.)
White Party at Ibiza Nightclub
9 p.m., $15, 18+
Ibiza Nightclub, 118 Market St.
One of the multi-level dance club’s most popular parties of the year gets the Pride treatment. DJ J. Stevens will be spinning until 2:30 a.m. White attire isn’t required, but is highly recommended. (Trust us: Wear white.)
Sunday, September 1
11 a.m. – 2 p.m., Free
Wrightsville Beach, Access 31
Take a more chill approach to Pride weekend (or swim off the night before) with a gathering organized by friends of Port City Pride.
Fantail Funday Dance Party
7 p.m. – 11 p.m., $25, 18+
USS North Carolina, 1 Battleship Road
The official Port City Pride Party kicks off at 7 p.m. with a fashion show from event sponsor Cape Fear Formal Wear. Afterward, DJ Bobby Zee will be playing dance tunes specifically chosen for Pride weekend (see below). Advance ticket purchase is recommended, as there is limited space on the battleship.
Port City Pride Afterparty
11 p.m., Free admission with Fantail Funday Dance Party ticket, 21+
Pravda, 23 N. Front St.
KGB, 16 Princess St.
The party keeps going at a pair of downtown nightspots. Entry is free when showing ID and wristband from the battleship gala.
Inspired by Bobby Zee’s playlist…