*adapted from www.durhamcivilrightsmap.org and www.ncpride.org
On Friday, April 17th, 1981, 125 men, women, and children held up signs and others as an act of protest in front of the Durham County Judicial Building. Their demands were universal, but their presence that day publicly denounced an incident of violence in their own community.
Five days earlier, April 12th, Ronald “Sonny” Antonevitch and three others had been sunbathing on the banks of the Little River near Johnston Mills Road when two men approached the group. Yelling anti-gay threats, they began to assault the four sunbathers. According to his personal account, the two men approached Antonevitch and finding him unable to move due to a physical handicap began to beat him and asked him, “Do you want to die?” After three days spent in Durham and Chapel Hill hospitals suffering critical injuries to his head and kidney, Antonevitch, who was only 46, passed away.
In the week following the assault, police charged two men in their early twenties with the murder. And as the courts began their hearings, the LGBTQ community and its supporters took a public and unified stance against hate crime. The vigil held outside of the Durham County Judicial Building was the first in a series of protests and parades that would define the LGBTQ movement in Durham for decades to come.
As Carl Whitman, one of the protestors that day shared with the Durham Herald: We just don’t want to let this incident at the Little River pass. It’s a question of the whole atmosphere that would let something like this happen.”
When the murderers were brought to trial, there was great fear that the court system would let them off or lightly punish due to the gay aspects of the case. A group of local gay men and lesbians banded together for the first public demonstration for gay civil rights in NC at the Durham Court House during the trial in 1982.
In 1986, the second public demonstration for equal rights was held on the campus of Duke University. The event that started as a gathering soon turned into a march and every year for the next 14 years, the NC Pride March would travel to a major city of our state to demonstrate and demand equal justice.
Each year it got larger as more and more of our LGBTQ citizens gathered the courage to walk down unfriendly streets and each year those streets became less threatening. It must be said that in the heart of most North Carolinians is a deep and abiding sense of fair play and justice. As the march went forward, slowly the attitudes of the past began to change. In Durham, where the first march had taken place, there were now many openly gay and gay friendly businesses.
However in 2000, the NC Pride March faced a crisis when the organizers fell into chaos six weeks before the June march. After all the years of struggle and after all the marches in Asheville, Charlotte, Carrboro, Durham, Raleigh, Winston Salem and Greensboro, it looked as though there would be no march in NC. As the disappointment traveled through the local Durham community, a small but dedicated band of 12 people united to save the march. It was held in 90 degree June weather and a faithful crowd of 2000 marched. In the aftermath, that committee reformed and began to revamp the concepts of the NC Pride March to fit the new century. It was decided that it would be moved to the Fall to take advantage of the weather and it was also decided that the model of moving the parade had become too difficult to manage.
The new model would be based on the idea of many county fairs and a single state fair. The statewide NC Pride parade and festival would stay in Durham and support other smaller Pride events around the state. This plan was exceptionally successful sprouting many Pride festivals in the cities of NC including Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Salisbury, Charlotte, Asheville and the Outer Banks.
After a long legacy, NC Pride dissolved and its organizers moved on to new endeavors. To continue the legacy and grow toward inclusion of all peoples, The LGBTQ Center of Durham took the reigns with the support of the community to the lead the newly created Pride: Durham, NC in 2018.