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‘It’s your life, live it:’ Locals, visitors celebrate Bluffton’s first-ever gay pride parade

Hundreds of people march in Bluffton, SC’s first gay pride parade

Lowcountry locals and visitors marched through Old Town Bluffton on Saturday, June 22, 2019, in the town's first-ever gay pride parade. The event was founded by Lowcountry PRIDE.
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Lowcountry locals and visitors marched through Old Town Bluffton on Saturday, June 22, 2019, in the town's first-ever gay pride parade. The event was founded by Lowcountry PRIDE.

There were a lot of rainbows and smiles in Bluffton on Saturday.

Everywhere you looked at Oscar Frazier Park, there were rainbow streamers, painted faces, supportive posters and people coming together to support one another.

Bluffton’s inaugural Lowcountry PRIDE Parade and Celebration drew in hundreds of locals and visitors.

The event was put on by Lowcountry PRIDE founders Ashley Mendez, Kathleen Hughes Mardell, Nathalie Beard and Rahne Ery, who led the participants in a march from the park, around Old Town Bluffton and back.

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Leaders of Lowcountry PRIDE led the parade (left to right): Ashley Mendez, Rahne Ery, Mitch Siegel, and Nathalie Beard. Lana Ferguson

People cheered, waved their rainbow flags and socialized as they marched.

Decked out in an Americana outfit, Blondie walked with a sign that said “Make America Gay Again!”

Blondie, who is from Bluffton, said she was scared at first about participating because the community is a small Southern town.

“But then I was like, ‘Girl, you have to live for yourself,’ ” she said. “It’s your life, live it.”

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Blondie, of Bluffton, used a political pun on her sign. “I wanted it to be gay, I wanted it to be pride, I wanted it to stand out,” she said about her sign. Lana Ferguson

In addition to individuals, groups were able to march in the parade, including local churches and businesses.

Some groups came from further away, like the Savannah Derby Devils, a roller derby team.

“We came up to participate because derby is all about inclusion and loving people,” Madam Hyde said.

Hyde’s fellow teammate Pistol Palin carried a sparkly rainbow sign that said, “Love is too beautiful to be hidden in the closet.”

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Members of the Savannah Derby Devils (left to right): Madam Hyde, Pistol Palin, and Girthquake. Lana Ferguson

Onlookers standing along the route shouted encouragement at the marchers, and others driving by in cars honked their horns in support.

Some Bluffton businesses, such as Captain Woody’s and Calhoun Street Tavern, displayed pride flags in their storefronts.

Jeff Weldon, who’s lived in Bluffton for about a year and a half, has marched in pride parades in New York, Washington, D.C., and Indianapolis. He had on a white T-shirt with a rainbow that said “But first, equality.”

“It was important for me to come because my son is gay and I try to support the LGBT+ community however I can,” he said.

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Jeff Weldon, of Bluffton, was excited to be a part of Bluffton’s first pride parade. He said he’s been in pride parades in New York, Washington D.C., and Indianapolis. Lana Ferguson

Once the marchers made it back to the park, everyone spread out and socialized.

Calea Rush, of Beaufort, said she came to the event to meet people and show her support.

She was carrying a neon pink sign that said, “No matter what they say it’s OK to be gay!”

“It’s about support,” Rush said looking at her sign. “This is what I would want someone to say to me.”

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Calea Rush of Beaufort posing with one side of her sign. The other side says, “No matter what they say, it’s OK to be gay!” Lana Ferguson

Terri Martin, of Bluffton, said she was excited to get to participate in the event.

Her sign said “I support civil equality” on one side and “Shine on” with a rainbow on the other side.

“All people have the right to shine,” Martin said.

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Terri Martin of Bluffton said, “All people have the right to shine.” Lana Ferguson

The celebration continued back at the park with speakers, including Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka, Rabbi Tzipi Radonsky, activist Mitch Siegel, a reading of a message from Congressman Joe Cunningham and more.

Lana Ferguson has covered crime, police, and other news for The Island Packet & Beaufort Gazette since June 2018. Before coming to the Lowcountry, she worked for publications in her home state of Virginia and graduated from the University of Mississippi, where she was editor of the college’s daily newspaper.
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