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The Defiant Ones: For Pride, We Celebrate Heroes

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The planning for this year's NC Pride festivities went sideways early on. As usual, the parade was scheduled for the last Saturday in September. But no one on the Pride staff looked at a calendar and figured out that the event would overlap with Yom Kippur and thus exclude observant Jews. NC Pride apologized for the oversight; last month, organizers announced that they were scrapping the parade and pushing back the start time for the event until four o'clock, closer to sundown.

It was an ineffective balm to a self-inflicted wound, to be sure, casting a shadow over a normally jubilant celebration.

That's unfortunate—especially this year, when hard-fought LGBTQ rights gained over the last several decades are threatened by an ever-hostile White House and legislature, when Pride, a celebration rooted in open defiance of cultural disapprobation and a demand for recognition and equality, is needed more than ever.

In keeping with this great challenge of our times, this year's Pride Issue profiles five people in the local LGBTQ community who are living up to the commitment for justice embodied in the legacy of Stonewall, the 1969 riots that served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement. These are not just champions of LGBTQ rights, but LGBTQ individuals who are using their activism or their art or their work to fight for the rights of marginalized and sometimes-forgotten populations within and beyond the queer community: elderly gay people forced back into the closet; people suffering from mental health issues and addiction; working-class folks trying to eke out a decent living; those on the losing end of institutional white supremacy and transphobia.

But first, I'd be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity to mark the passing of my own champion. In last year's Pride Issue, I asked a friend and former colleague, Billy Manes, to write about the aftermath of the Pulse massacre. Billy was the editor in chief of Watermark, an LGBTQ-focused publication in Orlando, and in that role, he had unique insight into the tragedy. And he wrote about it beautifully, as he always did.

I got to know Billy a decade ago, when we were staff writers at the Orlando Weekly. He was kind, funny, clever, thoughtful, tireless, undyingly passionate, haunted by unspeakable demons but determined not to let them win. After his longtime partner died in 2012 and his partner's family tried to claim what was left of the estate, Billy became a force of nature, a champion for marriage equality and all of the property rights that went along with it. After Pulse, he became something of a national spokesman for the Orlando gay community and an advocate for gun control.

But through it all, he was Billy Manes, one of my dearest friends, one of the most pure-hearted human beings I've ever encountered.

Three months ago, I flew to Orlando to say goodbye to Billy. I stood in a hospice room with his husband, Tony, and a handful of his closest friends, listened to one of his favorite songs—Alison Moyet's "The Rarest Birds," which she dedicated to him at a concert earlier this month in New York City—and watched him expire, the result of a sudden, unexpected health crisis. He was forty-five.

I miss Billy every day: our commiserations over the stresses of our jobs, our agape-mouthed despair over the state of politics, his ebullient cheerleading of all things Duran Duran, his unwavering love for Tony, the way he said "Love you" at the end of every phone conversation—not just to me, but to all of his close friends.

Billy fought to make the world a better place until his body couldn't take it any longer. For that, and for so many other reasons, he was my hero. He was my brother. He was my friend.

This country—indeed, this state—needs Pride more than ever. It needs heroes more than ever, people who will defiantly stand up for justice and equality, against bigotry and ignorance and hatred. It needs people like my friend Billy Manes.

Serena Sebring, an Organizer for Southerners on New Ground, Fights Entrenched White Supremacy

Drag Queen Vivica A. Coxx Has a Big Personality. The Change She Effects Is Even Bigger.

Through Art Asylum, Durham Artist Catherine Edgerton Helps People Who, Like Her, Have Struggled with Mental Health and Addiction Issues

Long-Term Care Can Often Mean Going Back into the Closet. Les Geller Wants That to End.

Denicia Montford Wiliams Wants to Make the Labor Movement a More Welcoming Place for LGBTQ People

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