Rob Lewis has served on the boards of a number of organizations, from the Carolina Bear Lodge to the local World Adult Kickball Association to his neighborhood association. He is the current president of Charleston Pride.
The very first Pride that I went to was several years ago in Columbia. It was for S.C. Pride. It was when I was still active with the Carolina Bear Lodge.
I was very nervous, because I’d never been to a Pride event before. It was very open and public, and I also didn’t really like the concept of Pride.
I didn’t like the use of the term “pride,” because to me, you’re proud of achievements or accomplishments, and I really don’t view being gay as being an accomplishment, because that lends itself to being a choice. In a time when we’re trying to let everyone know that being gay isn’t really a choice, it seems like we’re taking on this sense of pride in that, oh, we’re proud of an accomplishment as if it were a choice. So back in the day, I really wasn’t a big fan of the Pride movement. I remember they wanted me to ride on the float, and there was no way that I would do that. I was just terrified. But I did want to go and support them, so I stood on the side and cheered and waved.
So here it is years later, now I’m actually chairing a Pride organization, and it’s like, how did that come about? I remember having a discussion one time with someone. They were asking, “Well, what is the purpose of Pride? Why are you getting out there?” I said it’s really a means for us to get out and celebrate who we are and really to show that, when I say our accomplishments, that we are out here and we have families and we work, we contribute to society, and not only do we do all of these things that everyone else does, but we do it in the face of adversity, because we’re also having to do it at the same time that we’re overcoming social stigmas and stereotypes and certain rights that are deprived of us. We’re celebrating the fact that we’re overcoming these different types of — I hate to use the word oppression — but, you know, we overcome those, and then we’re still productive and contributing members of society.
And then it struck me: Now that is something to be proud of. I started thinking, OK, so I like the idea that it’s not that we’re celebrating or that we’re proud that we are gay, but it’s that we are proud of the fact that we are strong and successful and loving, caring people who contribute to society in spite of the adversity that we have to overcome because of the fact that we’re a member of a minority group.
We have so many different small clubs and groups and organizations that get together that kind of specialize in their own interests. There are a number of lesbian groups and a number of gay men’s groups, these different little groups that get together on a regular basis outside of Pride. But Pride brings everyone together, so all these people from the different subcultures in our community all come together to celebrate as one. It’s really good about bringing the entire community together.
And it’s not only about the celebration, because we’re a year-round thing. We also have a mission specifically geared toward crisis intervention and suicide prevention amongst our youth in our community, which is so prevalent. We’re hoping in the next year to partner with the Trevor Project in a good fundraiser for them, which will also go toward our mission. So we’re fundraising throughout the year for that and then hopefully our sponsors for the festival actually cover the costs for the festival.
One very positive aspect that I think comes out of actually having had discussions with people who have worked with other Pride organizations around the area and the country is that we were very surprised that we have had no opposition at all during the first two that we’ve had, not the first sign of picketing or boycott. There’s nobody out there that is waving signs here in Charleston. It just seems like we’re a very progressive and a diverse community and very open and accepting and tolerant. And so no one is out there picketing us, and I think that’s a really good sign for the area, for Charleston in itself.