When Worlds Collide

Ever since I first heard about “Gay Splash Day” at the US National Whitewater Center, I anxiously waited to see how it would turn out. I had envisioned many things, but in retrospect, it turns out that I really didn’t have a CLUE what it was going to be like.

First, I have to say that I’m REALLY glad that the organizers of Pride Charlotte decided to have this event at the USNWC. I think that Charlotte’s annual Pride festival is an important opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to stand up and be proud of who they are, and for their straight supporters (“allies” as we call ’em) to show their love for the LGBT people in their lives.

I’m also a huge fan of the Whitewater Center, as readers of GatorUptown.com are (perhaps painfully, at times) aware. I love the environment, the employees, and often the guests that go out there to enjoy the facility.

Having said that, I do sometimes have my reservations about some aspects of both. Sometimes people at Pride events very deliberately go “over the top” in their outlandish and in-your-face demonstrations of how proud they are to be LGBT, and sometimes people at the Whitewater Center can show very macho chest-thumping-alpha-male attitudes and behaviors. The two possible clashing of those two extremes did have me a little anxious.

It turned out to not really be a big deal at all. The Pride Charlotte folks boldly set up a booth right by the entrance, at the bottom of the steps leading down into the facility, and spoke to people who came up to learn more about what they were doing. The employees were by and large supportive, or at least accepting, of the day’s guests.

“The Gays” had their fun — I spotted several people proudly wearing their red t-shirts as they went whitewater rafting, hiking/biking trails, kayaking the Catawba River, or just enjoying the live music and watching the festivities. I was delighted to see (and hear, boy did I hear) the catcalls of a group of men sitting on the side of the rapids and cheering when they saw friends go by. I smiled warmly at the sight of a cute lesbian couple walking around holding hands. There wasn’t anything too noteworthy, frankly, to signal that it was a “gay day” there.

I’ll tell you about something I DID find noteworthy: there was a small but proud group of raft guides who graciously slapped HRC stickers on their helmets or paddles, showing their support for the LGBT guests that were present. (The Human Rights Campaign is an organization that lobbies for equal rights for LGBT people, symbolized by a blue-and-yellow equal sign logo.)

I’d quietly hoped to see more guides rise to the occasion and wear an HRC logo for the day, but I’d also quietly suspected that virtually no-one would. I was pleasantly surprised to see almost a dozen of them out there though — and keep in mind, these are basically ALL straight people showing their support for LGBT people.

I will admit that I’m a little disappointed that there wasn’t more of a turn-out for the event, frankly. It was a busy day, but really just a typical “Saturday busy” as opposed to the place being overrun by LGBT people. The Facebook event had over two hundred people saying they would attend, and over a hundred more saying that might attend… I would be surprised if in reality there were more than a hundred people there, and frankly I wouldn’t be shocked if the true number was closer to fifty. Still, it was great to see many wonderful friends out there, especially those who were there for the first time because of the event.

The highlight of the day, from an LGBT awareness perspective? I was walking past one raft guide who had just put an HRC sticker on another one’s gear, and when asked why he had done that, the first one said something to the effect of, “It’s about equal rights. You support equal rights, don’t you?” There was a quiet moment of contemplation, followed by “Yeah, I can support that. Cool.”

I tell ya, I was very proud yesterday. Proud to be a part of the gay community in Charlotte. Proud to be a raft guide at the US National Whitewater Center. And proud to combine those two worlds smoothly, even if just for a few hours.

Thank you, Pride Charlotte and USNWC, for helping my worlds collide.

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