'We need to shine even brighter': Durham Pride returns in full force after pandemic

Pride: Durham, NC's festival on September 24, 2022 on Duke's East Campus. 

After two years of cautious celebration, Pride: Durham, NC returned this weekend in full force and a flurry of color. 

Thousands took over Main Street as they marched in Saturday’s parade before arriving on Duke’s East Campus for the festival in the afternoon. With a light breeze and clear sky providing the backdrop for rainbow flags flying high, you would have never known Durham had a heat wave days before. On the ground, some people wore flags as capes, while others sported rainbow face stickers, tutus and angel wings. 

It was Durham’s first in-person Pride since 2019, and this year’s theme, IRL, aimed to embrace the beauty of gathering people together — “in real life,” but also “inspiring real love.” Whether it was below a rainbow balloon arch or on line for a food truck, people met one another with hugs and squeals of “It’s so good to see you.” 

“The weather is perfect, it’s good vibes and we’re celebrating community,” said Jesse Huddleston, co-chair of Pride: Durham, NC’s planning committee. “I’m seeing people from my church, from school, people I work with.” 

He bent down to hug a little girl from his church and occasionally waved to people he recognized passing by. Huddleston commended the generosity on display Saturday, the amount of “love and bodies and time” that went into putting Pride’s festivities on. 

For Huddleston, Trinity ’10, this year’s Pride felt like a full-circle moment. 

At Duke, Huddleston “hadn’t come into [his] own yet.” But at the entrance to East Campus earlier that day, Huddleston reconnected with two Duke alumni. The three hugged one another with “a lot of feeling and a lot of pride.” 

Away from the vendors, behind the inflatable slide and face-painting, Kathleen and Alan Mcnamee, both 75, sat on a grassy field in the shade. The two had marched with Durham Friends Meeting, a community of Quakers, and were now resting. 

While Alan wore rainbow suspenders, gifted to him from his daughter, who is transgender, Kathleen wore a rainbow scarf. The pair, along with their five year old granddaughter, had marched for their daughter, as well as their trans friends and relatives. 

A pink poster lay on the grass next to them. “We March in Honor of Our LGBTQ Children, Siblings and Cousins,” it read. Names were written inside hearts made of rainbow string. 

“I try to make as much noise as possible,” Kathleen said, noting that Durham was one of the few places in the nation in which she feels her daughter is safe. 

Still, this year’s Pride celebrations occurred amid ongoing threats to North Carolina’s LGBTQ community’s rights. 

The Supreme Court’s June reversal of Roe v. Wade, in which Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas called on the court to reconsider rulings related to same-sex marriage, was still sending waves through the community. Republican lawmakers tried to pass the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” legislation in the spring, which would restrict LGBTQ instruction in North Carolina elementary schools.

Republicans didn’t have enough votes to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s promised veto this session, but they’re hoping to gain a veto-proof majority this November in the midterm elections. 

The parade and festival Saturday also came on the heels of homophobic messages found spray painted on LGTBQ-friendly window displays in Downtown Durham on Wednesday. Durham police are investigating the vandalism. 

“[Pride] is a political statement,” Huddleston said. “There are other narratives that seek to counter or dim our light. That just means we need to shine even brighter.” 

Huddleston said Saturday that Pride: Durham, NC had been mostly peaceful and that he hadn’t heard of any incidents or counter-protests. Durham County Sheriff and Duke University Police Department officers were at both the march and festival. 

“It feels like a safe place,” Alan said. 

Outside the East Duke Building, Maria Maga, a Duke Health nurse manager, sported a rainbow tutu as she held two signs advertising monkeypox vaccinations. Duke Health had prepared to distribute 300 vaccinations, either by appointment or walk-in. By 1 p.m., they had administered over 70, with three hours left to go. 

“We want to reach a lot of people. We want to help, and this is the perfect place,” Maga said. 

As the afternoon went on, a little girl glimpsed a woman striding in a white mini dress and a mushroom headpiece and yelled out, “I love you, mushroom!” A pink inflatable unicorn meandered through the festival, stopping to pose and take pictures. 

Everywhere, people held one another close — intertwined fingers, an arm draped over a shoulder. One girl gasped as she spotted a friend, screaming, “Oh, I missed you!” She ran off the grass and into the sidewalk to greet her, leaping into her outstretched arms. 

Milla Surjadi profile
Milla Surjadi | Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator

Milla Surjadi is a Trinity junior and a diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator of The Chronicle's 119th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 118.


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