Inaugural Lowcountry Pride Parade set for June 22

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The planning committee for the Lowcountry's first Pride Parade and Celebration, which is set for June 22 in Bluffton. SUBMITTED

The first-ever Lowcountry Pride Parade and Celebration will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 22 at Bluffton's Oscar Frazier Park in the Field of Dreams.

Organizers have been pleased with the response they have received from friends, neighbors and Facebook. Yes, that's right: Facebook, the company - not just someone's page.

"It's so crazy and cool that Facebook found us!" said Kathleen Mardell, one of the organizers. "They want to use us as an inspiration and how-to video on their home page for other small towns to go ahead and start up a Pride celebration. We are so excited!"

The parade will begin and end at the park, with a route from 8th Avenue down Schults Road, turning onto Hildebrand and then Dr. Mellichamp Drive, into the Promenade, proceeding to May River Road and back up Schults Road to the park.

Organizers encourage participants to get "decked out" in their best garb, keeping in mind the family-friendly theme of the event. Signs, props, costumes and flags are welcome.

"Everyone is invited to walk in the parade," Mardell said. "The more the merrier." Pride colors - meaning rainbow colors - will be the theme of the day.

Three "Best of Pride" contests will be included:

• Best Pride Mini-Float: Pride Your Ride. Make a mini-float out of your wagon, stroller or wheelchair.

• Best Pride Costume: Individual or group theme.

• Best Pride Booth: Decorate your booth to show your pride.

Entry forms for contests will be available at the info tent at the park.

Mardell stressed that this year's event is permitted for walking only. No motorized vehicles (other than wheelchairs), bikes or golf carts will be allowed.

The celebration will follow, with about 35 vendors, according to parade organizers. Nonprofits, artists, food trucks, music and children's activities will be stationed around the Field of Dreams, with a stage for music and speakers.

Rahne Ery is excited for the event a well. She and her friends Ashley Mendez and Nathalie Beard all serve on the planning committee. They consider themselves "next generation" members of the LGBTQ community.

Ery, 22, who grew up in Bluffton, said she "never really saw people who are different as being bad." She said she has always felt Bluffton was was a welcoming community, and supporting this festival is a chance for residents to show it.

"What we are doing is building community. How fitting that we are doing this here, on the Field of Dreams," said Mitch Siegel, another committee member. "If we build it, they will come."

The family friendly, alcohol-free event is free and open to all. Attendees are encouraged to bring chairs for the afternoon celebration. Umbrellas are welcome; rainbow-colored umbrellas will be available for sale at the event.

Coolers are allowed, but not alcohol.

Speakers will include Rabbi Tzipi Radonsky of Beaufort, activist Mitch Siegel of Hilton Head Island, Tai McClendon, the Bluffton High School Gay Straight Alliance and others.

The Bluffton Fire District will bring a fire truck that will be open for children to climb aboard.

Volunteers are needed to assist along the parade route and at the celebration in the park.

For more information about the rain or shine event, including volunteer and sponsorship opportunities, the public is encouraged to visit lowcountrypride.org and follow the Facebook page "Lowcountry PRIDE."

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