On June 13, outside of the Holly Springs Police Department while a town council meeting took place inside, dozens of residents of the Wake County town gathered with rainbow flags and colorful signs to protest the council’s recent Pride Month proclamation.

This is the first year the Holly Springs Town Council has issued a Pride proclamation, but something is glaringly missing: the language of the proclamation leaves out any mention of the LGBTQ+ community or sexual orientation in general. While a Pride proclamation has been a goal for advocates across the town (the Holly Springs council came under fire last year for refusing to sign on to a countywide nondiscrimination ordinance and made no recognition of Pride Month), residents say what they got was not what they expected.

“It was right around the rush hour at the end of the workday,” says resident Jack Turnwald, a longtime LGBTQ+ activist, of the protest. “We had lots of cars driving by, honking, people waving and smiling out of their cars. It felt like we may not have been getting the words we wanted from our mayor, but we were getting a lot of affirmation from our community.” 

Turnwald says the town’s gesture this month raised more questions than answers for them. 

“On June 6, the agenda came out and there was a small piece there that said there was going to be a Pride of Holly Springs Proclamation, and immediately people started kind of asking, ‘Well, what does that mean?’” Turnwald says. “‘Pride of Holly Springs’ sounds a little different than just your standard Pride proclamation. We’re like, ‘Is this we’re proud of our town? Is this about Pride? What’s the situation?’”

The situation soon became clear.

“When you opened up the proclamation itself, there were many comments about diversity and celebrating different components of diversity in the town,” Turnwald says. “But none of the components listed included the LGBTQIA community.”

Turnwald says this made the proclamation feel much more backhanded instead of inclusive or affirming. Holly Springs mayor Sean Mayefskie did not respond to the INDY’s request for comment, and neither did four other members of the Holly Springs council. But Mayefskie issued a statement to media outlets in response to concerns raised from the community about the proclamation.

“This was always intended as a celebration of inclusion, a statement against discrimination,” Mayefskie said. “It’s a great first step. My door is always open to residents who want to have a dialogue about any issue, and I look forward to hearing feedback on this over the coming year.”

Aaron Wolff, the lone Democrat on the town’s six-member council, said why the council would ignore the LGBTQ+ population in its Pride proclamation “continues to be a mystery” to him. 

Omitting the LGBTQ+ community from the proclamation “completely cut out the heart of what Pride represents,” Wolff wrote in a statement to the INDY.

“It was described as a step forward, but to me it’s more like we are running in place, all while our LGBTQ community goes without the recognition and protections that they rightfully deserve,” Wolff added. “I believe there is a way forward that serves our LGBTQ community and protects the rights and beliefs of all Holly Springs residents, but it will require leadership and cooperation from our council which, until now, has been sadly lacking.”

The demonstration earlier this month was an opportunity for activists to make their voices heard and reaffirm their stances to the town’s governing body concerning LGBTQ+ rights. Whether it was friends, allies, parents, grandparents, teachers, or students, many of the demonstrators were there to show their support for the cause, Turnwald says. 

Adam Macaluso, another Holly Springs resident, says it bothers him to live in a society where anyone’s voice is not heard. Macaluso says he understands the value of being heard, from his own experiences and those of others. 

“Why are we comfortable removing [a group] from the whole point of what the definition of the Pride event should be?” Macaluso asks. “It really surprised me how it emotionally affected me. And I didn’t expect [the protest] would move me as much as it did. But I was standing there with my hands in my pockets and tears streaming down my face for the first 10 or 15 minutes. I was battling and trying to understand my feelings. I felt so confused and so happy.”

Turnwald says it was beautiful to see the demonstration as an act of building community and spurring momentum.

“There were people who showed up who maybe would have been afraid to show up before on their own, and now they feel like they have people to show up with,” Turnwald says. “This isn’t just a moment in time. It’s a continuous movement in our town. And it gives me hope for some of the negative legislation we’ve seen across the country.” 

As for the language of the Pride proclamation, Turnwald says there are plenty of great examples that Holly Springs, in the future, can model its proclamation on, like those in Cary, Apex, or Morrisville. It doesn’t have to be something complicated, Turnwald says, and an amended version should include mention of the LGBTQ+ community. They say LGBTQ+ residents shouldn’t have to wait another year for a proper proclamation. 

“This is where we start to change that tide by changing our own small communities,” Turnwald says, “by continuing to be vocal, by continuing to show up, and not giving up.”

Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com.

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