On Saturday, people in the Sandhills will get to wind down LGBTQ+ Pride Month with a bang as Fayetteville PRIDE throws its annual PrideFest at Festival Park.
Organizers say they're excited to see this year's turnout; they say they're hoping to beat last year's record of 7,000 people. The activists say it's important for people to come together in the face of growing concerns.
Starting in 2018, Fayetteville PRIDE President Katrinna Marsden says throwing the PrideFest was a major risk for the then-new community group. She says that at the time, her team anticipated lots of pushback and animosity at the first PrideFest, but they were in for a pleasant surprise when it actually happened.
"When we started up in 2017, 2018, that time period, we actually expected a lot of pushback but didn't get any," Marsden said. "We were welcomed wherever we were and it was a pretty humbling experience to see how welcomed we were when we were expecting otherwise."
However, Marsden says police will be on standby Saturday. Her team has had to make note of agitators who have come out to past Fayetteville Pride events, emboldened by the recent wave of anti-L-G-B-T-Q+ legislation.
"Since we came back from COVID, we have noticed an increase in the number of people who want to leave negative comments, the people who want to make negative comments to us in person and the people who want to come out and disrupt our events," Marsden said.
Still, she says Fayetteville's unique culture has helped PrideFest and its community flourish.
"I do think that Fayetteville is unique in the fact that is has a very transient community. We have a lot of military that come in and out. There's a lot of turnover and I think the unique thing is that brings in new ideas, fresh ideas all the time. So I think that this community is more welcoming because we're always welcoming new people."
Organizers say people can expect over 60 vendors, food trucks, a special zone for teens, and even water slides for kids.
Brian Adam Kline, Fayetteville PRIDE's historian says children can learn valuable lessons from coming to the event. He encourages young people to come regardless of their gender and sexual identities.
"This is a great event for the youth to come out to because they can feel that they are a part of something, part of the community, that there are other people that are like them, that celebrates like they do."