By Leo Buckle
Secular groups from around the state plan to march as a unified block for the first time in this year's Pride Parade on Oct. 20 in downtown Columbia to show support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
"I think it is a great thing to bring communities together as one," said Justin Wise, the S.C. Pride Parade coordinator.
Wise said that 37 groups have signed up for the 23rd annual Pride Parade so far, which makes a large turnout likely. He said he usually receives around 25 applications.
Members of the Secular Student Alliance at USC, National Atheist Party, Columbia Coalition of Reason, Camp Quest S.C., Secular Humanists of the Low Country, Upstate Freethinkers and the Freethought Society of the Midlands will be marching under the umbrella group, the Carolinas Secular Association.
"We're currently projecting between 30 and 50 folks from around the state, but we'd be happy with just three" said Steven Prouse, the S.C. state chapter leader of the National Atheist Party. He is one of the primary organizers of the event.
"We could have gone in as separate groups and marched in support, but we wanted to show a unified voice of support," he said.
"The secular community is probably one of the biggest allies of the LGBT community," said Kelley Freeman, the president of the Secular Student Alliance, who is also organizing the secular block. "We have no qualms about supporting them."
Although the secular groups want to show their support, they aren't looking for any special recognition, said Prouse."Our coalition really isn't trying to take a leadership role, nor are we trying to eclipse the focus of the day, which is equality."
Prouse compared the process of creating the event to a baseball team in the field. "I popped the ball up with a random comment, but Kelley Freeman, Dustin Tucker, and Amy Monsky are really fielding it and doing a lot of the heavy lifting."
He expressed some concern over how the secular presence would be perceived by the public, however. "Secular has become a dirty word from the pulpit, but I hope they understand that even though we may not believe the same things from a metaphysical point of view, we are all humans who are capable of love, compassion and giving support where support is needed," he said.
"Our message isn't about humanism or anti-theism or imagine no religion," said Prouse. "Our message is that a person is a person despite anyone's opinion about them."
Freeman said there are a lot of parallels between the LGBT and secular communities. "There's often a coming-out process," she said. "I have several members who are not out to their parents because they would be kicked out for being an atheist."
"We're marginalized because we're a minority that people of a generally religious persuasion don't like," continued Freeman. "A lot of people just assume that I'm morally reprehensible because I'm an atheist."
According to Wise, some religious groups will also be participating in the parade this year. These organizations include Garden of Grace United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia and St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.
Freeman said she doesn't think that the liberal theistic groups go far enough but also said that "support is support, and some people need the religious elements."
Some groups are opposed to the parade's message and use of public money.
"Previous acts that have appeared for Pride Week have been, frankly, indecent," said Oran Smith, the president of the Palmetto Family Council. "Put to a vote, the citizens of Columbia or Richland County would never allow their family's hard-earned money to be used for this type of entertainment.Those [individuals] who want RuPaul should pay for RuPaul."
Columbia City Council and Richland County Council are official sponsors of the event. The group received $16,000 from the county this year, according to the Richland County Public Information Office. The city gave $40,000 to the parade this year.
In 2010, the parade received $10,000 from the city and $20,000 from the county. Other groups, such as Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge and Congaree Riverkeeper, also received $10,000 from the city that year.
According to the Richland County website, the tourism grants it provides can be used for advertising, construction and operation of facilities for civic and cultural activities, public safety, public facilities, and the promotion of arts and cultural events.
Other sponsors include Food Lion, Miller Lite and Barefoot Wine.
The S.C. Pride Festival and Parade will be on Main Street in downtown Columbia. The parade will begin at noon.
The festival will begin at 1 p.m. Performers will include Sheena Easton, Chad Michaels, Reina and the South Carolina Drag Queens and Kings. Tony Snell, a local gay activist, will be speaking.