Every year, the Blue Ridge Pride Festival draws thousands of LGBTQ+ people and allies to the streets of Asheville to celebrate, support, and speak out, and this year will be no different. On Saturday, Sept. 30, festival-goers can expect a parade, music, vendors, and a lot of excitement + joy — but Blue Ridge Pride Executive Director Amy Upham emphasizes that the event is more than just celebration.
This year’s theme of “Advocate” encourages speaking up. “We hope what people take away is that they have a voice,” says Amy. “They are valued, and it’s really important that they use that voice.”
In pursuit of that theme, advocacy groups will be front and center in Pack Square Park, two NC state legislators will be speaking, and there will be two voter registration stations. Plus, Buncombe County Commissioner + Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, will be leading the procession that kicks off the festival. But that’s not all.
What’s in store
The Pride Procession will meet at 10 a.m. at 16 S. French Broad Ave. and get started at 10:30 a.m. Anyone can join the half-mile journey across the city to Pack Square Park, where the festival is held — signs, banners + flags are welcome.
When you reach the park, wander booths of local + regional vendors and nonprofits, visit the kids area for activities, and don’t miss out on the array of live music (Amy is especially excited for headliner Whitney Mongé). The festival will run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
In the interest of being community-minded, the team has made a number of changes based on feedback. For starters, this year’s event is undergoing a greening — they’re providing water stations to eliminate plastic water bottles (with both reusable water bottles for sale and compostable cups on offer) and asking food vendors to use compostable serving items.
In partnership with local disability specialists, the team is also prioritizing accessibility by cutting down on the number of vendors to increase the space between booths for wheelchair access, hiring ASL interpreters, and including large-print signs + brochures. The festival will also feature a mental wellness tent with noise-canceling headphones, fidget spinners, and mental health resources.
The Purchase with Pride initiative includes 57 local business who have partnered with Blue Ridge Pride, and festival-goers will be able to scan a QR code for a map of where to shop, eat, and play. Many of the businesses will be offering promotions for the LGBTQ+ community or donating some proceeds to Blue Ridge Pride. Those promotions will be up on the website shortly.
What’s to come
Beyond the big celebration, Blue Ridge Pride offers lots of resources and programs for the LGBTQ+ community. Online you’ll find the Pride Portal, where you can look up everything from community groups to businesses to healthcare that have been identified as welcoming spaces.
Amy shares, “I like to say we’re way more than just a festival.”