2021 Spencer Pride Festival Recap, Part 1 (of 5): Two Long Years and Two Big Challenges

SPENCER, IN – Downtown Spencer was filled with laughter, music, & smiles on Saturday for the 14th annual Spencer Pride Festival, hosted by Owen County not-for-profit Spencer Pride, Inc.   This year’s festival welcomed approximately 6,500 guests into the downtown square for the biggest-ever Pride event in this rural community.

TWO LONG YEARS AND TWO BIG CHALLENGES

The 2021 Spencer Pride Festival filled three city blocks in downtown Spencer on October 16.

More than two years since the last in-person Spencer Pride Festival in 2019, organizers had a lot to deal with this year.  To start, this marked the first Spencer Pride event since the controversial Special Events Ordinance was passed by the Owen County Commissioners in late 2019.  Wanting to avoid legal complications with the ordinance and its application by the local Commissioners, festival organizers instead chose to host their event in the streets and local businesses surrounding the square.

“Sometimes you need a little push to think outside the box,” said Jonathan Balash, president of Spencer Pride.   Balash also serves as the organization’s festival director.

“While the drama with the Owen County Commissioners led to a poorly written, expensive, and unwelcoming special events ordinance, the whole experience also unified our community around the importance of downtown events like the Spencer Pride Festival.    As a result of the controversy around the ordinance, Spencer Pride is now bigger than ever, including much more of our community than it had before.”

Balash expressed thanks to the Town of Spencer and its thoughtful officials who worked diligently to ensure that the festival could take place downtown safely and with the least negative impact to downtown residents and businesses.

Festival attendees gave positive feedback about this year’s event. Here, happy attendees smile for the camera as they check out the Spencer Pride Festival Marketplace.

For the first time, and thanks to Spencer Pride’s financial donors, this year’s food vendors were entirely supported by newly-installed utilities in the commUnity center sidewalk.  In the past, these utilities were available only at the Owen County Courthouse.  Spencer Pride will make the electrical and water connections available at no-cost to all LGBTQ-affirming downtown events in Spencer.

In past years, attendees used restrooms at the courthouse.  While these were clean, they weren’t sufficient to keep up with the growth of the event.  This year, attendees were able to use the recently completed downtown public restroom facility, which was installed thanks to an effort spearheaded by the Owen County Chamber of Commerce.  Spencer Pride supporters contributed to this effort.  Restrooms were also available at the Spencer Pride commUnity center, Civilian Brewing Corps, Main Street Coffee, and the Tivoli Theatre.

The second challenge that Spencer Pride’s volunteers had to work through in the coordination of the 2021 festival was navigating this unpredictable pandemic time.  To address this, Spencer Pride waited to see how the landscape was evolving amidst this public health crisis, watching both local positivity numbers and seeing how other events were fairing using various COVID-19 precautions.  Ultimately, a slate of COVID-19 precautions was announced and enforced during Saturday’s event – without any significant pushback from attendees.

Signs could be seen throughout the event that described the mask requirements, including phrases like “thank you for your understanding, your kindness to our volunteers, and your commitment to the overall health and well-being of our community.”

“Our guests appreciated the measures that we implemented to host our event as responsibly as we can during the COVID-19 pandemic,” explained Clay Wright, Spencer Pride’s health & wellness director.  “We saw full compliance with our mask requirements, both indoors and at the select outdoor locations where they had to be enforced.  We also saw high utilization of our complementary masks, hand sanitizer, and social distancing recommendations.”

Attendees were required to wear masks indoors and in some outdoors locations. Here, attendees are shown wearing masks outdoors, going “above and beyond” what was required.

Wright explained that there had not been a single issue escalated to him or other festival leaders regarding the COVID-19 precautions.

In addition to the pandemic-related measures in place, the Indiana Immunization Coalition staffed a vaccination clinic during the festival, providing free COVID-19 vaccines (and other vaccines, including the flu shot) to the public.

Spencer Pride navigated two big challenges over the past two years in order to bring the 2021 Spencer Pride Festival to fruition and, by all accounts, it was a profound success.