As the cars and trucks line up for the Charleston Gay Pride Parade on May 15, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey may be sitting in the grand marshal’s car, but that doesn’t mean he has to be excited about it.

The first locally-organized pride festival announced that Summey had accepted the honor last week, signifying a leap ahead for the LGBT cause. But the North Charleston mayor’s guarded response to the honor in The Post and Courier has become a source of muted controversy.

In the P&C report, the mayor indicated that while he will gladly serve as the grand marshal of the Gay Pride Parade — members of the gay community are members of the larger community and the mayor works for everyone in the North Area after all — Summey does not support the “lifestyle.” According to the daily, Summey said, “This is not in any way saying that I am supportive of their lifestyle.”

Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays notes in its Straight for Equality outreach program that lifestyle is a “negative term often incorrectly used to describe the lives of GLBT people. The term is disliked by the GLBT community because it incorrectly implies that being GLBT is a choice.”

While Mayor Summey’s statement may seem to be the sort of comment that would anger those in the LGBT community, local leaders advocating for gay rights have greeted the comments with diplomatic acceptance, seemingly happy that Summey is showing up at all.

“I think it’s great that Mayor Summey has agreed to be the marshal of the parade. It’s a great sign of Charleston’s willingness to welcome all people,” says Alliance For Full Acceptance Executive Director Warren Redman-Gress says.

As for Summey’s comments specifically, Redman-Gress adds, “That kind of statement is always disappointing, and it’s very much like most politicians, who say, ‘Well, we want everyone. I’m not saying I support them, but we want them here.’ It wasn’t a surprise to hear him say that he was not a supporter of the quote lifestyle.”

Nicholas Reigle, coordinator for Charleston Area Mpowerment Project, has similar sentiments. “I’m very excited that an elected official is willing to openly grand marshal this sort of event,” he says, while also noting, “It’s not a lifestyle.”

Reigle adds, “To me, actions speak louder than words. Since he is grand marshaling it, it shows me outwardly that he is supporting us.”

Parade organizer Lynn Dugan says that she considered asking Summey to retract his statement, but ultimately decided against it.

“What he’s really saying is that he accepts us regardless of his personal opinion, and acceptance is the first step,” Dugan says.

Like Reigle, Dugan thinks that Summey’s actions speak louder than words, adding that the mayor and the city have been extremely helpful. The important thing here is that Charleston is finally going to have a gay pride parade. Dugan says, “This is good. At least it’s starting. We need it.”

The Charleston Gay Pride Parade will begin in Park Circle and head toward Riverfront Park at the Navy Yard, where a festival will take place. Park Circle is home to two LGBT-friendly clubs, and was noted by Men’s Journal as one of America’s best neighborhoods.

Following the report, the mayor further elaborated on his earlier comments, sending the City Paper the following statement: “Even though I do not agree with everyone’s lifestyle, I firmly believe in everyone’s equality. As the Mayor of North Charleston, I am the ambassador for our residents, businesses, and visitors. As with any event that will bring guests into our City, I want to ensure that North Charleston’s best foot is put forward. I will be the grand marshal of the Charleston Gay Pride Parade and Celebration, not for a lifestyle, but for a city.”

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