The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Pitt County, North Carolina, hosted the NAMI Pride event on June 26 in celebration of Pride Month at the Greenville Town Common from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. where various booths with free Pride merchandise, several drag performances, food trucks and a whole lot of love and support  was present. 

Miguel Cornell, who performed as Freddie Mercury from the rock band Queen as a drag queen and sang “Somebody to Love” as well as “Where Are We Now” from the rock-pop singer David Bowie, said he got into drag as a form of self-expression.

“Seeing performances from other drag performers filled my heart with such a warm joy that I needed at a particular time in my life, and I want to be able to give that to other people as well,” Cornell said.

The Greenville community came out to support everyone no matter who they are, Cornell said. People in the area, he said, should show love and support for others, not just on this day, at the event or throughout Pride Month, but every day of the year.

Cornell said he had performed in drag previously, but the Pride event at Town Common was more of a space for the entire City of Greenville as well as for the East Carolina University community. Cornell said he as well as Anita Newhole and Tina Newhole, other drag performers at the NAMI Pride event, had the opportunity to dress up, do makeup as well as wigs to go along with their songs of choice.

“This is a more public event where families can come out and experience all this together, and this is downtown, so people wouldn’t normally see a drag thing, they can come out and see this,” Cornell said. “For the younger people who are still exploring themselves, still figuring out who they are, what they are, they can see this and maybe something will be like ‘Oh, this. This is what I am. I love this, and I love myself more.’”

Newhole said the first time they truly accepted who they were was at a Pride event in Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. Each individual in the world, Newhole said, should have all-surrounding love and support since some people are judged and criticized if they identify as someone within the LGBTQ community.

The NAMI Pride event, Newhole said, was their first time debuting as a drag queen as they performed “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gayner and “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga. They said they were excited to perform and feel the love and support of the community. 

“I mean the fact that not everyone has that (love and support) in their life is the reason you should give it even more,” Newhole said. “I mean just like what, you know, Free Mom Hugs was founded on, you know, the slogan ‘Oh your family doesn't support you, well I'm your mom now,’ you know. It's that whole notion of you got to look out for each other, you got to build a community, you got to have people that are there for you, and everyone needs that and that's what it's all about.”

Catherine Lynn, a junior art major and a volunteer with the ECU Dr. Jesse R. Peel LGBTQ Center, volunteered at the ECU LGBTQ Center’s booth where they gave away Pride flags, pins and wristbands. The LGBTQ Center, located on the second floor of the university’s Main Campus Student Center, is a resource for all ECU students.

Lynn said the LGBTQ Center is a place where everyone can feel safe, loved and supported. She said there are Pride events scheduled for the fall 2021 semester as well as for National Coming Out Day, which is Oct. 11.

“We’re a great resource to have if you’re questioning or if you’re an ally or you just need a quiet space to come in to destress,” Lynn said.

Events, such as the NAMI Pride event at Town Common, Lynn said, really shows everyone that they are truly loved and supported even if they don’t feel as if they are all the time. Everyone, Lynn said, should be able to love who they want to love.

Lynn said she felt encouraged by the number of people who came out to the PRIDE event.

“This is such a great turnout, and I didn’t think it would be this great, but it’s so exciting to get all these people coming in and asking questions and just seeing everyone here so happy,” Lynn said.

Janene Brown, said she is of the state leads of Free Mom Hugs North Carolina, an organization who has approximately 325 members as of June 26, which advocates for the equality of the members of the LGBTQ community by providing support, resources as well as education. 

Brown said she is based in Raleigh, but wanted to come to the Pride event in Greenville since there are tons of people in the community who do not feel the love and support that they deserve.

“We have several LGBTQ centers in The Triangle,” Brown said. “We have so many resources in Raleigh, and we love to see some of those resources here as well.”

Brown said it was an encouragement to see all the Greenville and ECU community members support the participants at the Pride event for exactly who they are.

Some individuals in Greenville and around the world are not accepted by their families, so the Free Mom Hugs organization will continue to be all-accepting to each and every person whether they be a part of the LGBTQ community or not.

“Everybody is perfect just the way they are,” Brown said. “Some of the folks that don’t have that in their homes, we want to step in and provide that. Suicide rates, 40% from, you know, unaccepting homes, so it’s absolutely something that’s necessary, and that’s why we’re here.”

Sharidyn Snow, Greenville resident and member of the LGBTQ community, said she heard about NAMI Pride through Facebook. She said she is relatively new to Greenville, so she was not sure what to expect at the event, but she came with her fiancée and had an amazing time at the event. 

Snow said she felt the love and support from each person at the Pride event. She said this event is something she will never forget. She said she has attended Pride events around Charlotte, North Carolina, previously, and will continue to go to as many Pride events as she can in the future.

“It’s important to me, because I’m pretty new to the area, and I thought it would be a great way to get myself out there and meet some new people that are like myself,” Snow said. “You know, it’s hard to put yourself out there when you really don’t know, so I figured coming out to an event like this is pretty safe in meeting friends and, you know, being honest about who you are.”

Individuals no matter who they are, who they identify as or where they’re from, Snow said, should celebrate each life. She said it is important, especially for the LGBTQ community, to feel comfortable in their own skin. Snow said she is glad she and the eastern North Carolina region realize they have support systems in the local community which will be there for them no matter the circumstance.

Cody Moffett, a Greenville resident, and member of the LGBTQ community, said he had a rough time growing up since he was not accepted by everyone he knew. He said it felt great to know there are people in the world that are all-accepting of him, his identity and sexuality. He said he never got the chance to go to Pride events when he was younger due to the fact that his parents wanted to protect him from the hate of this world, so he was happy he could attend the Pride event.

Moffett said LGBTQ members were born exactly who they are supposed to be, whether that be gay, lesbian, bisexual or anywhere else on the “LGBTQ spectrum.” It is not a choice to be a part of the LGBTQ community, according to Moffett. Everyone should love themselves as well as each and every other person, Moffett said, and people should know they are never alone.

“It’s equal rights. Everyone deserves to have equal rights, Moffett said. “There’s nothing wrong with someone liking someone of the same gender.”

There should not be LGBTQ labels in today’s society, Moffett said, and people should  just be who they want to be without hate, judgement and non-acceptance from others. He said he is so proud of himself, who he is and all the things he has accomplished in life thus far, and everyone should be proud of themselves. He said that is what Pride is all about.

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