Owen County Commissioners Pass Controversial Ordinance During Winter Storm “Watch”

As the wet snow of a winter storm fell to the ground, concerned citizens gathered in the first floor of the Owen County Courthouse last night to attend the county commissioners meeting.  They observed perhaps the coldest site in the county – the icy hearts of the Owen County Commissioners as they passed unceremoniously the contentious special events ordinance.  The ordinance is expected to significantly impact special events that call downtown Spencer home.

The crowd at the courthouse was relatively light compared to recent meetings, with just under 50 people in attendance.  The challenge was not getting people excited to attend, but rather, overcoming the harsh road conditions present throughout the county.  Owen County was officially under an “Orange” Watch status, which means that “conditions are threatening to the safety of the public” (information taken from www.in.gov/dhs/traveladvisory/).  During a Watch status “only essential travel, such as to and from work or in emergency situations, is recommended.”

Travel restrictions in place, it seemed to be the perfect conditions for the Owen County Commissioners to pass the controversial ordinance.  At every opportunity over the past 3 months, Commissioners Brothers, Burton, & Williamson have seemingly taken whichever path would result in the least public engagement.  Shifting agenda topics, adjusting meeting locations & times, failing to address sound equipment issues, & a variety of other methods were undertaken either intentionally or ignorantly (or both) to reduce public participation on this topic.  Unfortunately, this has also included outright lying to their constituents as well.  Perhaps these efforts were made because the vast majority of the public feedback on this matter has been in opposition of the ordinance & the commissioners’ attempts to stifle Spencer’s downtown events.

Owen County Commissioners Williamson, Brothers, & Burton at the December 16th meeting.

County Commissioners apparently feel strong enough about the ordinance to push it forward amidst great public backlash.  Oddly enough, they have provided only weak justification for their work when questioned by their constituents or the media.  Defending their position on the special events ordinance has proved challenging, given their inability thus far to honestly explain the reasons for pursuing the ordinance to begin with.

To be fair, the special events ordinance had been improved from its earlier iteration, but it still needed much more work before it could become an ordinance that would truly add value to the county.  Instead, the commissioners moved to quickly pass the ordinance 3-0 after the county attorney spent more than twenty minutes reading the ordinance aloud to the public.  There was no discussion among the commissioners or by members of the audience prior to the vote.

The revised ordinance wording was new to most people in the audience, possibly including one or more of the commissioners themselves; it had only been shared with the public 9 hours prior to its passing.  According to County Commissioners President Jeff Brothers the ordinance had been ready on Friday for his review, although why it had not been shared with the public at that time– & why this conflicted with other reports that the attorney was still working on it through the weekend – was unclear.

Changes that had been made to the ordinance were positive, specifically in reducing fees & clarifying the application process.  Many of the changes recommended by Spencer Pride & the Spencer Downtown Event Coalition were made.

Unfortunately, the changes made to the ordinance were less than half of those recommended.  The vague “sexually suggestive” wording had been removed & recommendations by a conservative citizen to add a “no vanity parades” provision were ignored, however, new wording about nudity was added & issues related to a lack of substantive due process were completed overlooked.  In addition, vague guidance about the application of waivers remained.  This part of the ordinance is ripe for litigation if county commissioners are not thoughtful in their administration of the new ordinance.

Passage of the ordinance marks sweeping changes in the accessibility, restrictions, & cost associated with the usage of county property during special events.  Upset members of the audience vocally expressed their frustrations at the moment that the ordinance went up for the vote.  Commissioner Brothers chose to raise his voice over the members of the audience in order to drown them out; this after he expressed frustration aloud that he ‘forgot his gavel.’  (At a recent meeting of the Commissioners in the middle of November, Brothers had ineffectively garnered his gavel to shut down debate on another topic.)  Argument between the Commissioners & citizens did ensue, however, it generally avoided the drama of the prior meeting in that accusations of criminal conduct were fairly minimal in the newest exchange.

Supporters of Spencer’s downtown events wore buttons during Monday evening’s meeting.

The entire debate over the special events ordinance made several things clear:

  1. The Owen County Community is highly supportive of all of its downtown events, including the Spencer Pride Festival.
  2. Spencer’s downtown events are highly impactful to downtown businesses as well as local employers. The success of these events is vital to these organizations.
  3. Citizens care tremendously about the success of our county & about maintaining its reputation as a welcoming place to live, work, & play.
  4. Owen County Commissioners do not respect each other, other county officials, or the constituents that they represent.

Where Spencer Pride goes next is clear & has been since this debate began.  We are in the midst of a major shake-up for our 2020 festival which has already yielded high levels of interest from new sponsors, vendors, & potential attendees.  Although the commissioners may have passed this ordinance in an attempt to diminish the success of the Spencer Pride Festival, the ultimate outcome of this effort will have been the opposite:  we are currently on track to have the biggest, boldest, & best Pride Festival in our history.

We will continue to keep the public informed about the impact of the special events ordinance & our detailed plans for the 2020 Spencer Pride Festival.  In the meantime, individuals who want to show their support to Spencer Pride can do so in a variety of ways.  We accept donations of cash as well as volunteer time.  We offer a variety of festival sponsorships for organizations.  For more information on how to get involved & to show support for our respected annual festival, please reach out to festival director Jonathan Balash at Jonathan@SpencerPride.org or (812) 821-3073.

Spencer Pride Responds to Revised Special Events Ordinance

The recently unveiled logo of the Spencer Pride Festival speaks to what the event is all about: Community. The proposed ordinance will have a negative impact on the local community & on attendees of Spencer’s downtown events.

This morning, just hours before the Owen County Commissioners are expected to vote on their revised Special Events ordinance, a copy of the ordinance was finally shared with the public.  The document had not been available as of Friday evening, so the county attorney must have been working overtime during the weekend to have the ordinance ready for today’s 6 pm meeting.  Even though harsh winter weather conditions on the roads caused Spencer-Owen Community Schools to close today, it appears that the Owen County Commissioners are intent upon bringing the public out into the streets to witness their presentation & vote on the revised ordinance.

While there has been a limited amount of time to assess the changes that have been made to the ordinance, we have reviewed the document & consulted with some outside resources.

There were multiple positive changes made to the document that were suggested by Spencer Pride, the Spencer Downtown Event Coalition, & the general public, however, there are still major issues that exist with the ordinance as it now stands.

First, let us address the improvements.  Our previous concerns about the ordinance included the broad nature of the ordinance as well as the inclusion of excessive costs.  For the most part, these two concerns have been addressed.

  • The scope of the ordinance has now been more narrowly defined; “special events” that require a permit are now defined as those events that utilize county resources &/or property.  This eliminates the broad application of the ordinance to cover garage sales, pool parties, & other events on both public & private property.
  • Excessive costs outlined in the prior version have been either reduced or clarity has been provided about their applicability.  This results in an overall reduction of costs to host a special event.

Unfortunately, there are still several outstanding issues, some which raise legal concerns & others that are just bad decisions in the proposal.

  • The revocation of a special events permit does not include substantive due process:  there is no appeals process whatsoever.   The Commissioners could decide a week before our 2020 event to revoke our permit & all we could do is attend a hearing 3 days later to understand their reasoning.  That’s it.  Event over.
  • Commissioners are able to waive fees at their discretion, with no guidance as to how they should apply this.    This sets the county up for litigation if the commissioners do not exercise this right very thoughtfully.  Given the behavior of the commissioners over the past several months, it does not seem reasonable they would act in a thoughtful manner.
  • Event organizers are responsible to ensure that all participants at their events act in a manner that is not discriminatory or harassing.  On the surface this sounds reasonable, until one considers that event organizers do not control the behaviors of all participants, specifically those of protesters.  Spencer Pride, for example, had a protester at our 2019 event who yelled obscenities to our attendees, all based on his strongly-held religious beliefs.  These comments were unquestionably harassing & discriminatory of the LGBTQ+ community & all of the festival attendees.  Our organization, however, has limited ability to control protesters.  Without infringing upon free speech, Spencer Pride is unable to eliminate such behavior.  We can work to prevent it, we can try to minimize its impact the day of the event (both of which we do), but we cannot ensure that it will not take place.  Based on the ordinance, if a similar circumstance arose next year, it would put us in a position to be in violation of the ordinance & therefore set the stage for our special event permit to be declined.
  • While the vague & subjective “sexually suggestive” terminology has been removed, it was replaced with new references about nudity.  Again, on the surface this seems reasonable, since none of Spencer’s downtown events would ever allow the public display of nudity in any fashion.  The ordinance, however, is referencing all materials on display as well, including art.  The Indiana code defining nudity which is referenced in the ordinance is intended to cover public displays of nudity that constitute “public indecency,” which is the act of a person.  That definition was not intended to cover art & other materials.  This aspect of the ordinance could be applied in ways that limit free speech & religious expression.
  • From an impact perspective, the revised ordinance still eliminates access to the courthouse facilities & now additional county properties as well.  This would profoundly impact some of our downtown events such as Christmas at the Square (Santa would be homeless) & any event that relies on access to the ADA-compliant public restrooms at the courthouse (such as Spencer Pride).

The Owen County Commissioners have taken a small step forward with this revision, but we respectfully request that the ordinance undergo further revision before voting on it.


Respectfully submitted,

Jonathan A. Balash                                          Janet Rummel

President & Festival Director                          Marketing Director & SDEC Liaison

Spencer Pride, Inc.                                          Spencer Pride, Inc.

In a Surprise Turn of Events, Proposed Events Ordinance Stalls

More than 115 people attended the November 4 Commissioners Meeting.

The first floor of the county courthouse was packed last night with more than 120 attendees, most of whom were present to learn about the fate of the proposed special events ordinance that was unveiled to the public on October 21. The controversial ordinance, which has been driven by County Commissioner Board President Jeff Brothers, would have profoundly impacted the Spencer Pride Festival & Owen County events if it passed.

The main concerns expressed about the ordinance included its sweeping new authority over all Owen County events, ambiguous wording and lack of clear standards, as well as the high fees proposed. Other specific new restrictions were also addressed, including the elimination of courthouse access for all special events.

After more than an hour of public comment, the Commissioners Jeff Brothers and Steve Williamson voted to table the ordinance to make revisions based on public feedback.  Commissioner Gary Burton was not in attendance.


Prior to commencing with public feedback, county attorney Jim Bryan gave an overview of the ordinance. His self-described intent was to help clarify some key areas of the ordinance.

Unfortunately, as speakers later pointed out, the attorney got some of the fundamental facts about the proposed ordinance wrong. For example, Bryan stated that if the ordinance passes, the definition of a special event in Owen County would be unchanged.

Contrary to Bryan’s statement, the definition of a special event is different between the current and proposed ordinances. The difference is small on paper, but huge in application of the ordinance. It is also one of the areas most concerning about the ordinance, as the first public speaker pointed out.

Bill Williams, Jr. was first to the podium out of the list of 26 approved speakers for the ‘public comment’ portion of the ordinance discussion. Williams expressed concerns about the ordinance’s broad authority over events that were on private property.

Representatives from community organizations, some of whom organize special events or are otherwise impacted by the county’s special events, were the largest contingent of speakers speaking in opposition to the ordinance.

Ginger Kohr from the Owen County Library also expressed opposition to the proposed ordinance, in part due to its vague wording. She began her statement by first referring back to the opening comments by the County Attorney, Jim Bryan:

“The attorney’s words sound comforting,” Kohr told the audience, “but it’s the words in the ordinance that we have to live by.”


Melody Kinder-Carpenter, who spoke as a representative of the Rev 20 Christian Music Festival, shared similar concerns about how the ordinance had been worded.

“Some of the language is a little foggy so I’d suggest it be rewritten,” Kinder-Carpenter said.

She went on: “When we began the Rev 20 Festival, we believed in the tapestry & fabric of what our county stands for…”.

She spoke of several things that make Owen County special, including the Faith of many people who live here. She noted that the proposed ordinance would “drive disconnect and not join people together.”

“[This ordinance] doesn’t feel right in our house. This is not feeling like love to me at all.” Tears could be seen among several of members of the audience.


Niki Gessler was very direct in her comments to the Commissioners during Monday night’s meeting.

The lack of public input in the drafting of the ordinance was a theme throughout the evening, but was made most clear when Niki Gessler addressed the commissioners.

Gessler, who has been involved in several events in nearby Gosport, spoke without accompaniment of a microphone, yet everyone heard her statement loud and clear.

“I know it’s not easy doing this job,” Gessler said. “Getting calls 24/7 from the thousands of people who pay your salary… but that’s the job. If you aren’t listening to the people, you aren’t doing the job.”


Jaime Sweany (Juniper Gallery), Ben Williams (Civilian Brewing Corps), and Ann Henk (Owen Valley Flooring) were a few of the business owners who spoke out. They highlighted, in part, the positive economic benefits they see during special events.

“The whole quaint small town atmosphere is lost when you move these festivals from the square,” Henk noted.

Henk also highlighted the likely cost of litigation that will arise if the ordinance was passed: “The litigation serves no one but the attorneys. I’d rather see money go to infrastructure – like our roads – as well as education.”

Denise Sudol, owner of the Dragonfly Gallery, spoke passionately about her investment in Spencer’s downtown and her ongoing tax contribution as a business within the county.  She noted that her monthly income was reduced by half when the Apple Butter Festival relocated from downtown Spencer to the Owen County Fairgrounds.

“It’s important for us to be a total community. We need the courthouse. It’s OUR courthouse,” Sudol stated unapologetically.

At the end of the 2 minute allowance for her statement, she continued.

“I know my time is up,” Sudol said, directing her comment to the Commissioners. “I think it’s about time for yours to be up as well.”

Both Sweeney and Sudol had noted that their businesses, located just a stone’s throw from the courthouse doors, had never been patronized by any of the three current county commissioners.


Julie Coffin addressed the Owen County Commissioners during the November 4 meeting.

Mark Rogers, Executive Director of the Owen County Community Foundation, spoke about the need to encourage fairs & festivals. He spoke specifically about the proposed elimination of access to the county courthouse for all special events.

“We strongly believe that the people’s house should remain open for fairs & festivals throughout the year,” Rogers declared.

Also taking the opportunity to mention the proposed changes regarding courthouse use was Julie Coffin, who spoke to the commissioners in her capacity as President of Spencer Main Street.

Spencer Main Street coordinates the annual “Christmas at the Square” festival which includes events hosted by local downtown businesses as well as the courthouse itself. At the heart of Christmas at the Square is Santa Claus, who speaks with more than 300 kids every year, all from the courtroom on the second floor of the Owen County Courthouse.

“[Without the courthouse] the core of Christmas at the Square is gone,” Coffin spoke somberly to those present.


Unsurprisingly, Santa came up several times during the course of the meeting.

Casey Shively spoke as a citizen of Owen County about the importance of Spencer’s festivals and events. A self-described import, Shively came to Owen County 6 years ago and said she feels blessed to have been able to be a witness and participant to some of the downtown revitalization.

“Is it worth kicking Santa out of the courthouse to get drag queens off the lawn?” Shively asked the commissioners as she wrapped up her statement. Her comment alluded to the motivation by Commissioner Brothers to move forward with this ordinance in order to hinder progress of the Spencer Pride Festival.

Spencer Pride was also brought up by Barbara Thompson. Thompson is also a recent Owen County resident, having purchased a home in Gosport last year. Thompson’s first experience in Owen County was 5 year ago when she had the opportunity to attend Pride. She enjoyed the experience and reflected on it positively when she ultimately contemplated her move to Owen County.

Janet Rummel spoke on behalf of Spencer Pride. Rummel highlighted a couple of the major issues within the proposed ordinance.


High fees in the proposed ordinance, relative to similar communities in Indiana, was brought up several times.  Although the county attorney had attempted to justify the fees in his opening statement, he told the crowd that his comparison of fees was benchmarked with the fee structure of Bloomington & South Bend. People were quick to point out the flaws in comparing our county to those of much wealthier places.

Susan Summerlot from the Vandalia Preservation Historic Association spoke about the impact that the new harsh fee would have on an annual fundraiser she helps coordinate each year.

“If we had to pay the fees, it would be the death of us,” she told the County Commissioners.  The fundraiser only brings in about $400 per year and a $200 application fee plus a $500 refundable deposit would exhaust the limited financial resources of the organization.

Jennifer Abrel shared a similar story about events coordinated by the Purdue Extension Office. The Purdue Extension Office is located on county property. Unless changes are made to the proposed ordinance, Jennifer informed the Commissioners, this “would effectively end Extension programming.”


Jonathan Balash, Spencer Pride president and spokesperson of the Spencer Downtown Event Coalition, pointed out that either the proposed ordinance should be amended, or the existing ordinance should be better managed by the Commissioners. If the proposed ordinance were to be amended to reduce fees, remove ambiguous requirements, & add clear standards, it could be acceptable to the SDEC, Balash informed the Commissioners.

Balash also pointed out that the Coalition has offered on multiple occasions to work collaboratively with the Commissioners on improving the ordinance. To date, the Commissioners have ignored those offers.

Ben Williams offered his perspective on how the process of drafting and evaluating the proposed ordinance could have been improved.

“A lot of our fears, hostilities, and misinformation could be quelled by opening up the lines of communication,” Williams said to the audience before turning to the commissioners and continuing: “…Starting at the top.”


“The presence of so many citizens at tonight’s County Commissioners Meeting, and the seemingly endless list of speakers who spoke overwhelmingly on behalf of downtown events and in opposition to the proposed ordinance, is a testament to our amazing local community,” said Balash.

“They care deeply about the preservation of all special events, including our Spencer Pride Festival.”

Before voting to table the ordinance for the evening, President Brothers complained to the audience about the way he had been portrayed in many of the sentiments expressed.  Few attendees seemed to sympathize with him.

When the vote was finished, the crowd cheered.   While many had hoped for this outcome, there were likely few bets that it would end this way.   Given Commissioner Brothers’ recent statements, it was widely assumed that the ordinance would pass.

Whether the tabling of the vote is` a genuine effort by the Commissioners to start listening to the public, or whether this is a tactic to stall a vote until public outcry subsides is unclear.

For now, this was a huge milestone for the community.   Citizens are encouraged to remain vigilant on this topic, nonetheless.

Open Letter to the Owen County Commissioners

Commissioners Brothers, Williamson, & Burton:

On behalf of the Spencer Pride Board of Directors, I am writing to provide our feedback on the recently proposed special events ordinance for Owen County.

Spencer Pride supports efforts to improve the county’s special events ordinance. Making sure that taxpayer-funded county resources are appropriately managed and protected is important. We agree that organizations, such as Spencer Pride, should bear some of the costs associated with events they coordinate, regardless of the significant financial revenue brought into the community by these events. We want to ensure that all organizations have equal access to county resources and that county resources are made available to all organizations which use it respectfully and follow reasonable efforts to apply for its use.

Food vendors fill the parking lot of the Owen County Courthouse during the 2019 Spencer Pride Festival

There are two ordinances currently in effect that have been adopted by Owen County Commissioners. The Commissioners have admitted during recent public meetings, that the County has not been ensuring compliance to these existing ordinances, imposing existing fees, or assessing damages to county property that may have been caused during one or more special events. While focusing on effective and efficient compliance to current ordinances would have been more fiscally prudent, Owen County Commissioners have taken a more costly and time-consuming path, resulting in the proposal of an extensive new ordinance. This new ordinance tests the limits of the county’s authority and sets up a circumstance ripe for litigation.

The draft special events ordinance as proposed by Owen County Commissioners during the October 21st meeting is greatly flawed. We encourage Owen County Commissioners to reevaluate and improve several areas of the ordinance to ensure clarity of expectations and the implementation of a fair process for utilization of county resources. 

Our concerns can be grouped into the following themes:

  1. Unnecessarily vague requirements that could be used capriciously and invite litigation, which will cost tax-payers far more than the funds brought in by the new ordinance.
  2. Excessive costs as compared to similar ordinances in communities throughout the Midwest, including other Indiana towns and cities.
  3. Highly restrictive limitations on the utilization of county property which create unreasonable financial and personnel burdens for organizations that host special events for the community.
  4. Compliance with requirements in one area of the proposed ordinance creates a direct conflict with the ability to comply with other areas of the same document.

If enacted as written, this ordinance would impact the Spencer Pride Festival in the following ways:

  • decreasing services/activities offered
  • burdening local businesses with increased participation costs to offset extensive new fees
  • constraining accessibility to some aspects of the festival by those with physical limitations
  • creating new safety concerns
The 2019 Spencer Pride Festival welcomed more than 4,500 people to the Owen County Courthouse, including countless families who chose to spend their day among friends.

All other special events in downtown Spencer would also be impacted, some more significantly than others. Special events are an important lifeblood for our downtown community.  Our Commissioners should work to ensure that these events are supported and cultivated.

Given that neither current rules nor fees have been appropriately managed, many people have questioned why the Commissioners have approached resolution of their concerns by creating more complicated restrictions and establishing higher fees. In addition, County Commissioners have demonstrated both a lack of transparency and willingness to deceive taxpayers regarding their motivation behind these efforts. Based on feedback provided by County Officials and our experience with some of the Commissioners, we believe that these efforts have been undertaken to undermine the success of the Spencer Pride Festival, which celebrated its 13th annual festival this past June with more than 4,500 people in attendance.

The Spencer Pride Festival has always been a family-friendly event, rooted deeply within Owen County. For 12 of the past 13 years the event has taken place on the grounds of the Owen County Courthouse, where it has brought thousands of people from within and outside of our community. Some of the largest employers in Owen County have booths at our festival and see the value it brings to the community.  In 13 years, there have been zero arrests for lewd behavior during our festival and no citations have been issued to Spencer Pride for violations of county or town ordinances. While Spencer Pride has always provided evidence of the county-required liability insurance, we have never been accused by the county or town of causing damage to county facilities and therefore never needed to make a claim on our insurance. This is due to the responsible behavior of our volunteers, vendors, and event participants.

The Spencer Pride Festival has helped drive awareness to our wonderful community. It has also improved the reputation of our county, which unfortunately has suffered an abundance of negative press over the years, mostly related to corrupt government officials. We believe that our event has been a success because of the need for places that allow authentic self-expression. We also believe that we have been successful due to our particular approach within our community. Rather than drive change through protest and litigation, we start with engagement and education. We treat people with respect and follow the “golden rule.”

We respectfully request that Owen County Commissioners work with Spencer Pride, other local organizations, and businesses to craft a more practical ordinance that achieves all of the righteous goals outlined in the draft ordinance’s introduction. We ask that the Commissioners reevaluate their motivations for undertaking these efforts and ensure that they are acting as responsible agents without ideological bias for the citizens of our community. The community has clearly shown its support for downtown events like the Spencer Pride Festival, and we sincerely hope that the Commissioners can rise to meet the expectations of the citizens who elected them.

Respectfully submitted,



Jonathan A. Balash


Spencer Pride, Inc.

Open Letter to Owen County Commissioners



Janet Rummel, Marketing Director & SDEC Liaison:  Janet@SpencerPride.org, 765-481-8798

Jonathan Balash, President & Festival Director: Jonathan@SpencerPride.org, 812-821-3073

Spencer Pride Participates in Spencer Downtown Event Coalition

The first Spencer Downtown Event Coalition was well-attended. (Photo Courtesy: Casey Shively)

Supporters of Spencer’s Downtown Events showed up this evening at the Spencer Pride commUnity center for the first-ever meeting of the Spencer Downtown Event Coalition.  More than 41 individuals were present to discuss the current situation with the Commissioners & to develop a plan for constructively moving forward toward resolution.

Ultimately, the goal of the Coalition is to save & support Spencer’s downtown events by ensuring continued access to Owen County Courthouse grounds & facilities.  Access to this public space is at risk due to efforts of the Commissioners to potentially restrict or eliminate use of the courthouse building, lawn, & parking lot for special events.

A key outcome of this evening’s meeting was the formation of an advisory committee to review proposals from the Commissioners & to make recommendations  about how ordinances can be improved to better support downtown events.  Spencer Pride, as an organizer of Spencer’s largest event on the square, was identified as one of the groups that would be represented on the committee.  Janet Rummel, Spencer Pride’s External Events Coordinator, will serve on the committee as the Pride Festival representative.

Other committee representatives were identified from downtown event organizers as well as local businesses & residents & influential organizations.

Jonathan Balash was selected as the Coalition’s spokesperson.  Balash is presently president of Spencer Pride.

“The passionate engagement expressed this evening is consistent with what we’ve been seeing from everyone when it comes to preserving our downtown events,” said Balash.  “Our community has come forth resoundingly to say ‘our events are important to us & they must stay’ & our goal as a Coalition is to help ensure that our Commissioner’s understand this & are equipped to help our events thrive.”

Individuals who want to support the Spencer Downtown Event Coalition are advised to:

  • Join the “Spencer Downtown Event Coalition” on Facebook
  • Spread the word about the Coalition & the Commissioners’ efforts to curtail access to the Courthouse & grounds for downtown events
  • Purchase a “Downtown Event Supporter” yard sign when they become available later this month
  • Contact the Owen County Commissioners to express their support for Spencer’s downtown events, including the Spencer Pride Festival

Statement from the Spencer Board Board of Directors About Recent Gosport Hate Crime

The following statement statement was issued from the Spencer Pride Board of Directors today:

During the first week of August, a mural near Gosport’s waterfront was vandalized with a swastika symbol.  The Spencer Pride Board of Directors, along with our passionate & caring volunteers, strongly condemn this hateful action.  While we are pleased that the mural was able to be repaired quickly, we wanted to raise awareness of this incident.  It is similar to the hateful damage done this past Spring in Spencer to the flag pole that flew a rainbow Pride Flag.  There is a time & place to express disagreement, but it is never acceptable to damage property, especially with the intent to terrorize others because of their beliefs.  This is a hate crime, & we sincerely hope that local law enforcement is treating it accordingly.

Public Expresses Support for Downtown Events to County Commissioners

The “Special Events Ordinance”

The Owen County Commissioners Meeting was bursting with attendees on Monday evening, due to a last-minute addition by Board President Brothers to discuss the ‘special events ordinance.’   Months ago, rumors began to spread that the Commissioners planned to make sweeping changes to the rules around utilization of the courthouse for special events like the Spencer Pride Festival, which is the largest festival that utilizes courthouse facilities.  While nothing was confirmed, ideas floated about the potential change including less significant changes like eliminating the use of courthouse restrooms & broad changes as an all-out ban on utilization of the courthouse property for special events.

A recently-created Facebook page that has focused its attention on eliminating the Spencer Pride Festival has made the Commissioners the main focus of their work & had been promising to petition the commissioners to complain about Spencer Pride.  The group has chosen to spread three particular lies about the festival in hopes that they can stir enough public outcry to convince the Commissioners to make this change.   Any attendee of the Spencer Pride Festival could have easily dispelled those falsehoods, however, as the present Owen County Commissioners are not Spencer Pride attendees, they could be more easily led astray.  The Facebook group most likely wanted to prey upon the Commissioners lack of first-hand knowledge of the Spencer Pride Festival.

Two weeks ago, the special events ordinance first showed up on the formal Commissioners meeting agenda, however, during the meeting there was no discussion on the topic.  When concerned representatives of Spencer Pride inquired, they were told that a draft was in process of a new ordinance but that it had not yet been finalized & there was nothing that could be shared.  Other citizens were told similar stories when reaching out for information about the special events ordinance.   The commissioners stated that no action would be taken for at least four weeks.

Fast forward just two weeks & the special events ordinance returned to the agenda, without any public comment planned.  When Pride organizers recognized the addition of the ordinance just hours before the meeting was scheduled to begin (contrary to what had been previously communicated by the Commissioners), they began reaching out to local stakeholders from other downtown events & organizations with a vested interest in downtown events.


 A Packed Commissioners Meeting

The crowd at Monday evening’s meeting of the Owen County Commissioners began showing up at 5:30 PM.  By 5:45 attendees had filled every seat & individuals stood throughout the room anywhere they were permitted to do so.  By 6:00 when the meeting began, the crowd had overflowed into the second-floor lobby.  In total, more than 80 individuals had shown up to express their support of Spencer’s downtown festivals.  The hot, crowded Commissioners room waited in eager anticipation for the meeting to begin.  After the call-to-order, pledge of allegiance, & prayer, the meeting began.  A couple of administrative tasks were complete in a minute or two & then the real agenda commenced.  The first item was the special events ordinance.

Commissioner Brothers kicked off the topic by expressing that, although there had been no agenda item for public comment, he wanted to hear the feedback of those in attendance.

“I want public input,” Brothers said.

For almost an hour, individuals stepped forward to express their support for Spencer’s downtown events, giving Commissioner Brothers the input he had eagerly requested.


Overwhelming Support

Jordan Bland started off the feedback by first asking what the Commissioners’ plans were on the matter  After they provided vague & non-committal comments in response – again suggesting they put the agenda item up to solicit feedback -they ultimately revealed that they had received a petition about a ‘recent special event.”  The Commissioners would not elaborate on the event or the contents of the petition.

“So is it accurate to say that because of this petition, you are taking action?” Bland inquired.

“Yes,” the Commissioners concurred.

The Commissioners were asked for what specific issues had been occurring with special events.  They continued to refer to costs that taxpayers are having to cover & noted restroom facilities, security, & other costs, such as damage to trampled flower beds.

Commissioner Brothers also noted that “the Town needs to help us with these things.”

John Stantz, member of the Town Board, then spoke up.

Stantz mentioned the various businesses & organizations downtown who rely on the special events at the courthouse, including Main Street Coffee, Juniper Gallery, the Tivoli, & the Spencer Pride community center.

“It’s not my job to be judge & jury,” Stantz stated.  Stantz made it clear that while the Town doesn’t interfere with the County’s business, but he made a request of the Commisioners: “I’m just asking you to leave it alone [referring to the special events ordinance already in place].”

Commissioner Burton responded by stating “It needs to be tweaked a little bit.”

Commissioner Brothers corrected his colleague: “It needs to be tweaked a lot.”

When the topic of courthouse reservation fees came up, which the current ordinance outlines, it was made clear that the Commissioners had not been aware of a fee being in place & therefore have not been asking for it or collecting it.  This could have helped recuperate some of the minor costs of maintaining the courthouse facilities after events have taken place.

The Commissioners mentioned the cost of restroom services & security, however, several audience members, including Spencer Pride Director Judi Epp, pointed out that the county does not pay for the restroom attendant.  Instead, the organizations using the restroom pay out of pocket for the attendant.  For Spencer Pride, that’s been $225 in most recent years, to service the two restrooms for Friday evening’s setup & Saturday’s festival.

Sheriff Hobbs Spoke up in support of special events downtown at the courthouse.

“As far as security, it’s my job to provide that,” Sheriff Hobbs explained.

“I’ll make sure we work with the commissioners to provide adequate security.”

Sheriff Hobbs hadn’t been made aware of any specific concerns raised because of the special events.

Rob White from Owen County Preservations recommended that a Commission be created with various stakeholders of the County’s special events to be included.   This commission would then help advise the Commissioners on how to improve the ordinance while still supporting special event growth.  White, who also volunteers with Spencer Main Street, then made his position on the potential relocation of downtown events clear:

“If we lose all of the other festivals, the 8 years we’ve spent revitalizing the downtown will have been wasted.”

Melody Kinder Carpenter, who represented the Rev20 Christian Music Festival, expressed support for White’s idea for a commission.  Others in the audience shook their heads in affirmation of the concept.

The Commissioners asked if anyone had a problem with events moving from the County Courthouse to the County Fairgrounds.  Many people expressed that they did have an issue with it.

Jonathan Balash, president of Spencer Pride, spoke on a few topics at this time.  First, he addressed the movement of events to the fairgrounds.

“We had nearly 5,000 people come out to our festival year,” Balash stated.

“We offer a festival with that ‘small town America’ feel & that’s part of why we’ve been so popular.  The character of our downtown brings people in to our community for these events.”

Balash added that Spencer Pride has invested significantly in the downtown area, having purchased one of the largest buildings downtown to house the Spencer Pride commUnity center.

“This has been no small investment but we did it because of where it is – at the heart of where our festival takes place,” Balash added.

Balash clarified that Spencer Pride was supportive of any effort to recuperate costs that the Pride Festival incurs on the county.  Reservation fees, electrical bills, or any other costs were specifically called out as items that Balash said Spencer Pride would happily pay for that evening if it could address any concerns that had been raised.

“We have someone here who can write the checks right now,” Balash said.

Julie Coffin, incoming President of Spencer Main Street, spoke up next.  Julie explained that “the key to revitalization of every small town in the country is getting people downtown.”

Mike Sudol, local investor & member of the Spencer Main Street Board, then pointed out that all of the issues brought up thus far during the meeting also had solutions raised with them.

“We are rallying to come up with solutions,” Sudol stated.  “People are gravitating to this community, a place where people can come together to celebrate.  We want to be welcoming to them.”

Sudol went on: “It starts with the courthouse square.  It doesn’t’ stop there, but it starts there… The county has made me feel like I belong here.  To say that we are going to do things contrary to that is counterproductive.  This is Spencer.  We should be damn proud of it.”

Steve Withem, outgoing President of Spencer Main Street, noted that the organization was working to bring additional events downtown, including the recently announced International Ventriloquism & Arts Festival.

“We need more activities downtown,” Withem declared.  “I would hope that you would embrace us, support us, & give us a pathway to make it happen.”

Jaime Sweany, owner of Juniper Gallery, was next to speak.  Sweany opened the Juniper Gallery within the past year, so is a relatively new addition to the downtown businesses scene.

“I chose Spencer, I chose to invest my life savings here, because of the square, the renovations…to take any step back is upsetting to me.  My business is absolutely dependent on this.”

Sweany informed the Commissioners that festivals have brought the greatest number of people to date into her building.

Sweany went on.  “My business is also here because of Spencer Pride.  It showed me that this is an open-minded community. I don’t think I would have come here without Spencer Pride.”


Public Comment Period Ends … Eventually

At this point, the Commissioners attempted to stop the public comment section.  The crowd wasn’t ready to be finished airing their feelings on the matter, however.

Concerned citizen & Owen County Preservations Board Member Deb Jordan recommended that the Commissioners begin doing walk-throughs of the courthouse property before & after events, so that damage caused by events could be addressed by the organization coordinating them.  It had already been made clear that any organization reserving courthouse facilities is required to have proof of liability insurance, although the county hasn’t sought to charge any damages back to the organizations as of this time.

Jordan Bland again spoke up.  “What we haven’t mentioned is the millions of dollars that people have invested in this 9 block square: the Tivoli, Jaime [Sweany], Mike [Sudol], Spencer Pride, the clock tower.  Those are huge investments that are far & beyond they money you’ve been referring to here.”

Commissioner Brothers told the crowd in attendance: “We’re not taking anything away.”

One individual who was part of the overflow crowd in the lobby then stepped forward.

“There are 30 more people who can’t even come in here because this room isn’t accommodating, she said.” We can’t hear the questions or the answers.”

President Brothers responded by saying that comments would be accepted in writing.

“But these are people who care & bothered to show up,” she went on.

John Stantz offered to step out of the room to update those who could not get inside the meeting on what had been discussed.

At that time, the special events ordinance was formally tabled by the Commissioners for future discussion.


The Conversation Continues

Outside of the conference room, a crowd gathered to continue the discussion.  Local business owner Rob Babbs was quite vocal, as were representatives from several other businesses & organizations.  Requests were made to create a Facebook page & e-mail list to help stay connected & “be vigilant” in watching what actions the Commissioners take on this topic.  Jonathan Balash collected names & e-mail addresses.  After the meeting was over & everyone went home, the official Facebook page “Coalition to Save Spencer’s Downtown Events” was formed.  In the past 24 hours, more than 220 people have joined the group.

Individuals interested in keeping informed on this topic are encouraged to join the Facebook group & add their names to the e-mail list.  Names can be added by sending a message to Jonathan Balash via e-mail at Jonathan@SpencerPride.org.  Everyone is also encouraged to be vocal about their support of Spencer’s downtown events & to continue to engage with the Owen County Commissioners about their support.


Generous Donation from Local Glass Artists Adorn commUnity center Entrance

On Sunday, a beautiful piece of stained glass art was hung in the transom over the main entrance to the Spencer Pride commUnity center, thanks to a generous donation from Bill Adams & Dave Rosen who operate under the business name Brightstar Glass.  The pair, who have been together since 2003, have nearly 8 decades of combined experience working with stained glass.

Bill & Dave first approached Spencer Pride commUnity center Director Jacob Balash in late 2018 about the potential for a custom-made piece of art for the center.  Over the next several months, Dave & Bill crafted a design & ultimately created the piece in their home studio.  Some of the glass utilized in the piece is no longer made, making the transom a truly one-of-a-kind piece.  The commUnity center’s building number, 17, is prominently displayed at the center of the piece, with a spray of pride colors fanning out from it.

From start-to-finish, this large piece took “hundreds of hours” of artistic design, engineering, & fabrication.

“We are a married gay couple who honor what the Spencer Pride commUnity center stands for and what it provides for the extended community,” said Dave, when asked why they made the donation to Spencer Pride.  “The stained glass art donation is a visible way to increase our personal support and encourage others to support the center’s work.”

Jacob Balash is elated about the addition to the commUnity center’s entrance, which has seen dramatic transformation this year with the installation of all new doors (locally made by Two Avocados Designs) & windows, as well as a proper stage for the feature display window.

“This piece is absolutely beautiful,” Jacob proudly exclaimed.  “During the day, it glows beautifully from within the center.  At night, it creates a splash of color & character on the outside of the building.  We are so grateful for Bill & Dave’s generosity.”

Brightstar Glass products are available for sale at the commUnity center’s retail shop, Unity.  There are a variety of glass products, including bowls, stained glass yard & window art, ornaments, & magnets.  There are a few special stained glass window panels available for a limited time that utilize the leftover glass from the Spencer Pride transom.

The glass art is estimated to be worth $5,000.  To see the glass art in person, visitors are encouraged to stop by the center during normal operating hours Wednesday through Saturday, from 10 AM until 7 PM.

Spencer Pride is a 100% volunteer-powered organization with a mission to make Indiana a more welcoming place for ALL people.  For more information about the organization, please visit www.SpencerPride.org.


Annual Meeting Marks Major Milestones for Spencer Pride

The Annual Meeting of Spencer Pride, Inc., took place this past Sunday & marked several major milestones for the 13-year organization.  Highlights included announcements about a reorganization of the Board of Directors, election of new directors & new officers, as well as approval of bylaw changes such as the addition of a vice president position for the first time.

Directors & other organizational leaders presented on both what the organization has accomplished over the past year as well as what is planned for the coming year.

Jonathan Balash, President, served as emcee of the event.  He welcomed attendees, first introducing the organization’s mission.  Later, Jonathan described the proposed organizational changes to the Board of Directors, which were ultimately ratified by the members in attendance.

Joy Hellman, Youth Empowerment Director, presented on both the Iris Youth Group as well as the Volunteers in general.  She noted that Spencer Pride welcomed 45 brand-new volunteers in the past year & that volunteers have logged more than 12,500 hours in that time.  Meanwhile, participation in Iris events tripled.  Joy also described major activities from Iris this year, including their first-ever alternative prom & their role in establishing Owen Valley High School’s Gay-Straight-Alliance (GSA).

Emily Carroll, newly promoted to Pride Festival Director, covered the 2019 festival sharing some remarkable facts from this year.  More than 4,500 people attended the festival, with 2,400 of them visiting the Spencer Pride commUnity center alone.  Entertainment doubled this year due to the addition of the second venue in the commUnity center’s Gathering Place.  Camden’s Carnival, the festival’s prime area for games & activities for all-ages, more than doubled the number of participants.  Emily had been Lead of the Festival Activities Committee for the past two years & will now be taking on ownership of the entire festival from Jonathan, who has been responsible for the event since the first Spencer Pride Festival in 2007.

Jacob Balash presented a recap of commUnity center activities, which mainly focused on the physical improvements that the center has undergone in the past 12 months.  Notable among those improvements has been some exterior painting, demolition of the addition at the back of the building, & a myriad of enhancements inside such as the construction of a display window stage, installation of new furniture in the meeting room, & much more.  Jacob, who had been serving as retail manager until the Board reorganization, has been promoted to commUnity center Director.  This means that Jacob will now take on all aspects of commUnity center operations.

Rex Hinkle, Outreach Director, described the thousands of dollars & hundreds of volunteer hours that have been given out by Spencer Pride this year.  He also outlined the many events that Spencer Pride volunteers have attended on the organization’s behalf, including participating in the 2019 NYC Pride March where the organization received national attention by being featured on live television.  Rex also detailed the Midwest Pride Conference, which had been hosted by Spencer Pride in March.  The event was a huge success, with more than double the expected number of participants.

Judi Epp presented on the organization’s fundraising over the past year, noting that $18,000 in grants were received.  She also described the many ongoing opportunities for individuals to support facility rehabilitation efforts or overall operating expenses.   Judi took a moment to explain the influence of the commUnity center & retail operations on the organization’s revenue.  Activities associated with the commUnity center accounted for nearly 2/3 of the organization’s income this year.  Judi, who is a founder of Spencer Pride & has been a long-standing officer, stepped down from her role as Treasurer.

“It has been my privilege to serve as an officer of Spencer Pride for the past 13 years,” said Judi. “I’m happy to make room for new blood, however, & I think the organization now needs someone with more extensive financial expertise.  They will find that expertise in Nathaniel.”

Judi has agreed to take on the newly created Fundraising Director role, where she will be able to continue to use her skills at generating funds for the organization, especially through promotion of the 50 From 50 campaign.

Nathaniel Clawson & Cameron Glass were both elected as first-time Directors onto the Spencer Pride Board.

Nathaniel Clawson was elected as both Director & the organization’s Treasurer.  Nathaniel has worked in finance & accounting for multinational corporations in North Carolina, Indiana, & Hangzhou, China.  His commitment to Spencer Pride comes from his love of his transgender daughter & wanting to create a world where everyone’s children can be themselves & love whomever they love.  Nathaniel supports his habit of spending time with his family by working for Boston Scientific in Spencer.    Nathaniel will chair the Finance Committee.

Cameron Glass will serve as the Iris Youth Lead, having just been elected by the youth at a recent Iris meeting.  The organization prizes the perspectives of its youth, which is why the Iris Lead is always asked to serve on the Board of Directors.  Cameron is a passionate & outspoken member of Iris & attends Owen Valley High School.  Luke Brinson, who served as Iris lead for the past year, has stepped into the Vice Lead role after his term ended on the Board of Directors.

Members voted to adopt changes to the bylaws that included lengthening officer terms from 1 to 2 years as well as incorporating a vice president into the officer line-up.

Katie Zuber was elected Spencer Pride’s first-ever vice president.  Katie has been a member of the Spencer Pride Board of Directors since 2015 & has served as Secretary since that time.  She is a wife & mother & is excited about her new role within the organization.  Katie will chair the Development Committee, which is responsible for Fundraising, Outreach, & Volunteer Development.

Kim Fidler, longtime Director of Spencer Pride, was elected as Secretary, replacing Katie.  Kim is also a member of the Putnam Pride Initiative based in nearby Putnam County.  She has been involved in nearly every aspect of Spencer Pride over the years & is looking forward to serving as Secretary where she will be able to contribute to the organization in a new way.

Dana Beth Evans, who was unable to attend the meeting, was announced as the organization’s new Volunteer Development Director.  Most recently, Dana Beth served as Spencer Pride’s volunteer coordinator, a position that has now been eliminated & incorporated into other leadership roles within the growing organization.

It was announced that the third (& final) board committee, Programming, will be chaired by Jonathan Balash.  That committee is responsible for the coordination of the organization’s key programs, which include the commUnity center, Pride Festival, Youth Group, Health & Wellness, & Outreach.

“The changes that were made today will have a significant impact on our organization for years to come,” Jonathan said enthusiastically.  “I’m excited to have such a passionate, dedicated Board of Directors to lead our organization in achieving it’s mission of making Indiana a more welcoming place for ALL people.”

Two videos were shown during the event.  The videos can both be found on Spencer Pride’s YouTube channel.  In addition, Emily Carroll coordinated two skits to advertise volunteerism & the 50 From 50 program.  The skits & videos added fun & diversity to the meeting.

Information on the organization’s plans for the upcoming year will be shared in a future post.

Individuals interested in becoming a volunteer for Spencer Pride should visit the organization’s online application at www.SpencerPride.org/Volunteers.

After the meeting adjourned, several of Spencer Pride’s volunteers stuck around & posed for this photo.

Camden’s Carnival & commUnity center Host Expanded Activities for 2019 Festival

There are plenty of activities planned for this year’s Spencer Pride Festival on June 1, in addition to the previously announced lineup of entertainment at two venues. The main activities will be occurring in Camden’s Carnival (Spencer Pride’s family fun area located in Market Street) & the Spencer Pride commUnity center.

When it comes to all-ages fun, nothing will satisfy attendees more than Camden’s Carnival. While Spencer Pride has always had plenty of things to do, the carnival has greatly expanded over the past two years & will continue to do so again this year. In the center of the carnival area Bloomington Aerology will be showing off their aerial silk talents & offering free lessons. Adjacent to this will be several booths which will include carnival games (sponsored by Insurance Pros, LLC). Face painting will be provided by The Painted Lady. Iris Youth Group, PFLAG, & other Youth-oriented organizations will be located in this area as well.

To the west of the carnival games will be the large inflatables. This year the festival will have a rock wall, deluxe slip-n-slide, & bungee run, each one for all-ages. For those 12 & under there will be a bounce house. For the first time, the festival will feature a Touch-a-Truck area, which will include a semi, two law enforcement vehicles, & a fire truck. Weather-permitting, there will be vintage Model A cars & VW beetles.

Adjacent to the carnival, the Pet Pride Parade presented by Elanco will kick off at 3:30 PM. There is no fee to participate in this event & no advanced registration is required. Happy pets of all types who are leashed to a responsible human companion are welcome to participate. Judges will evaluate the pets based on personality, costume, & behavior.

At the Spencer Pride commUnity center, the Choose-Your-Own Raffles will once again fill the meeting room. Thousands of dollars of items are available during the raffles, which will be drawn throughout the day. Tickets are $1 each or 6/$5. Raffle items include jewelry, a speaker system, golf club bag, autographed sports memorabilia, overnight getaways at locations such as French Lick Resort, & much more.

Tickets for a 50/50 drawing will be sold all day. The winner will be selected at 7 pm. Tickets are $5 each or 5/$20. Last year, hundreds of dollars were awarded to the festival’s 50/50 winners.

Drag Queen Storytime, which was a new & wildly popular addition in 2018, is back again this year. It will take place at 4 pm in the Gathering Place of the commUnity center.

“With our expansion of the carnival & doubling of live entertainment this year we expect attendance to increase in those areas,” said Jonathan Balash, Spencer Pride President & the organization’s festival lead.

“Emily Carroll, our Activities Committee Lead, has done an astounding job this year making the festival even more special than it has been in the past. Her devotion to our work is inspiring.”

For more information about the festival, please visit SpencerPride.org.

2019 Spencer Pride Festival Entertainment Lineup

The entertainment lineup for this year’s Spencer Pride Festival is twice as long but equally as diverse as compared to last year.  For the first time, the festival will feature two venues for all-day entertainment.  The Ivy Tech Bloomington Main Stage will continue to be the largest venue, located on the south lawn of the Owen County Courthouse in the heart of the LGBTQ+ festival.   The Gathering Place of the Spencer Pride commUnity center will serve as a second, smaller venue for 2019.

“We wanted to provide a venue that serves as a more intimate environment for both entertainer & audience,” said Jonathan Balash, Spencer Pride president.  “We expect that the Gathering Place will be a popular location for everyone.”

Entertainers scheduled for this year include some returning favorites such as Quarryland Men’s Chorus & Inkwell Moon as well as new Spencer Pride Festival performers Static Rats & Dino.  From solo singer/songwriters like SarahJayne to bands like the Trip, from folk to rock, whether guitar or harp, the 2019 lineup offers someone for nearly everyone.

Schedules for each of the venues are below:

Ivy Tech Bloomington Stage

Spencer Pride commUnity center Gathering Place

This will be the first time that there has been a second entertainment venue at the Spencer Pride Festivalspenc


Spencer’s Downtown Business Community Shows Support for Spencer Pride

SPENCER, INDIANA – As the number of days remaining until the 2019 Spencer Pride Festival is getting smaller, downtown business support for the event & for organizer Spencer Pride, Inc. is strong & on the rise.

The Juniper Gallery is located on Market Street in downtown Spencer.

Businesses on the square that wish to express their support for Spencer Pride have an easy way to do so. Spencer Pride offers a special rate for these businesses to become official participants of the festival. This gets their business shown on the festival map & listed online as supporters. Businesses also receive a sticker that can be proudly displayed in a window, if the business desires to do so. In addition, Spencer Pride prints a map of supporting downtown businesses that is displayed year-round in the Spencer Pride commUnity center.

“Individuals visiting our center often ask us what businesses in the downtown area support us. They want to show them support in return,” says commUnity center Retail Manager Jacob Balash.

“Having the map makes that an easy conversation.”

Balash also says that people come in asking for specific types of businesses that are supportive of the organization.

“It’s wonderful to be able to answer their questions by directing them to one or more of our downtown retailers,” Balash continued.

“If they want a coffee shop that supports us, we can give them two businesses within 100 feet of our center.”

Balash is referring to Main Street Coffee & Spencer Coffee House. Both of the businesses will be open for extended hours during this year’s Spencer Pride Festival.

Jaime Sweany, owner of Juniper Art Gallery, is also one of the downtown businesses that support the festival & its parent organization.

Jaime Sweany, Owner of Juniper Gallery, is proud to display the Spencer Pride sticker in her store window.

“I chose Spencer as the location for Juniper Art Gallery largely because of Spencer Pride’s strong presence & community leadership.” Sweany said.

“I support the mission and work of Spencer Pride 100% & believe that embracing & celebrating diversity is essential for peace to prevail on this magnificent planet we all call home.”

Juniper Art Gallery is located at 46 E Market Street in the original location of the Spencer Pride commUnity center (before the LGBTQ+ center relocated to its permanent home at 17 E. Franklin Street).

Festival attendees may be surprised to find that many of the downtown businesses are offering products directed to the LGBTQ+ community & their allies.

“A few years back The Dragonfly Gallery started offering merchandise, such as greeting cards & wedding gifts, geared at same-sex couples,” explained Judi Epp, a member of Spencer Pride’s board of directors. She went on to explain how many people came to Spencer Pride volunteers to express how shocked they were to find such supportive businesses in Spencer. For Epp & others in the Spencer community, it’s not so surprising anymore.

“We have so many welcoming people here in Owen County. That’s why we’ve become so well known for such a fabulous festival every June.”

The Casida Barber Shop proudly displays their 2019 Spencer Pride sticker.

In total, more than 20 downtown businesses have chosen to be included on the 2019 festival map. That is the vast majority of businesses in Spencer’s downtown.

“As a lifelong resident of this community, I can’t tell you how much it means to me to see this type of visible support from our wonderful businesses downtown,” declared Cathy Wyatt, also a member of the board of directors.

“Through our work with Spencer Pride we’ve seen such positive change in our community over the years.”

Playhouse Toys & Games prominently shows their support of Spencer Pride at their store on Market Street in downtown Spencer.

Spencer’s downtown is in the midst of a great revitalization. This began in 2013, with the restoration & re-opening of the historic Tivoli Theatre. Since then, new businesses are cropping up on the square every year. In the past year alone, Spencer has seen the addition of Juniper Art Gallery, Spencer Coffee House, & most recently, the Civilian Brewing Corps. All three of those businesses are supporters of Spencer Pride. The Tivoli Theatre is also a supporter of Spencer Pride, who has a monthly volunteer night at the theatre & sponsors multiple events at the venue every year.

“The Tivoli is the true jewel of our downtown,” says Spencer Pride president Jonathan Balash, who is Jacob’s husband.

“By showing support to one another, we help each other grow. We firmly believe that every business downtown is vital in making our community stronger. Knowing that they are supportive of the LGBTQ+ community means a lot to area residents & visitors.”

Jamie Sweany, went on to further explain her appreciation of Spencer Pride & the Spencer community as a whole: “It makes me proud to be part of an open-minded, progressive community that is working hard to bring more love and justice to the world.”

Ben Williams, owner of Civilian Brewing Corps., attributes some of the town’s success to Spencer Pride.

“Spencer’s downtown area is in the midst of a major comeback. I truly believe that it couldn’t have happened without the Spencer Pride organization,” said Williams.

On Montgomery Street, the newly opened Civilian Brewing Corps. displays their support for Spencer Pride.

“The Spencer Pride commUnity center & festival are not only helpful & enjoyable, but they show that the town is moving in a positive direction.”

The brewery, which officially opened to the public on March 3, had a ‘soft opening’ for the Midwest Pride Conference on March 2, to support Spencer Pride’s strategy of including as many local businesses as possible in the 3-day event. The conference was a huge success, in part, because of the support of business owners like Williams & his wife.

Civilian Brewing Corps. will be selling beverages at the festival for those 21 & older.

Marce King, Executive Director of the Owen County Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development Corporation, is excited about the revitalization of the downtown & business support for Spencer Pride.

“Owen County is a growing community! The citizens of Owen County understand that working together, communication, & caring about one another is what brings growth & strength to a community,” King stated.

“Spencer Pride plays an active role in working towards these goals.”

The current listing of supporting downtown businesses (this refers only to those businesses directly on the Owen County Courthouse Square) includes:

  • Axis Apparel Co.
  • Brown & Associates
  • Casida Barber Shop
  • Civilian Brewing Corps.
  • H&R Block
  • John J. Fuhs, Attorney at Law
  • Juniper Gallery
  • Main Street Coffee
  • Our Community Bank
  • Owen County Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development Corporation
  • Owen County Community Foundation
  • Playhouse Toys & Games
  • Spencer Coffee House
  • Spencer Evening World
  • Sweet Owen Visitors Bureau
  • The Dragonfly Gallery
  • Tivoli Theatre
  • Unique Hair Designs
  • Watts Law Office
  • West & Co.

Festival attendees are strongly encouraged to visit the supporting businesses that are open during the festival on Saturday, June 1st.

Lucky 13: Spencer Pride Festival Returns on June 1st

SPENCER, INDIANA – The 13th annual Spencer Pride Festival will take place on Saturday, June 1st. The well-known rural LGBTQ+ pride festival is the largest event held on the square of the Owen County Courthouse.  This year’s festival will take place at a new time: noon to 7:00 PM.  The change in time is meant to capture a wider audience, especially those who work during the daytime on Saturday.  Admission & parking for the festival are both free & the public is invited to join in the festivities.   The event is entirely “-focused” according to its organizers.  


“Family-focused means that its not just tolerant of all ages, but that there are things to engage individuals of all ages as well,” said Spencer Pride president Jonathan Balash.  “It’s important to us that families can come & spend the day in downtown Spencer without certain members of the family getting bored.  At Spencer Pride, we have something for everyone.”


The Spencer Pride Festival includes live entertainment throughout the day.  This year, live entertainment will be featured on the Ivy Tech main stage on the courthouse lawn as well as in the Gathering Place of the Spencer Pride commUnity center, which is located at 17 E. Franklin Street adjacent to the courthouse.  In total, the 2019 Spencer Pride Festival offers 14 hours of live musical entertainment, entirely free for festival attendees to enjoy.   The festival has an eclectic line-up of entertainers, from local bands Inkwell Moon and The Trip to singer/songerwriters like SarahJayne and Window to My Soul.  Other entertainers include Quarryland Men’s Chorus, Dino, & Ktea.  The annual Spencer Pride drag show will take place at 6:00 PM, however individuals interested in drag should plan to be at the festival by 5:30 to see the inaugural Spencer Pride amateur drag show.


The Spencer Pride Pet Parade, presented by Elanco, will kick off at 3:30 PM.  All pets are welcome to attend alongside their leashed, & well-mannered human companions.  This will be the fourth year of this event, which includes a short walk or “parade” around the courthouse before wrapping up on the Ivy Tech main stage on the south lawn.  


In addition to entertainment, the festival will feature a large marketplace including more than 110 booths.  Marketplace vendors include retailers for shopping & organizations for learning.  Vendors will be spread throughout the courthouse lawn on all four sides, plus Market Street & eastbound Franklin Street.  A huge array of food vendors will be available to serve attendees everything from snocones & fried pickles to tenderloin sandwiches & Bavarian pretzels.  Civilian Brewing Corps & Cardinal Spirits will be selling alcoholic beverages in the Pride Lounge, located on the south lawn for responsible drinkers 21 & older. 


Local businesses such as Boston Scientific & Catalent Biologics will be on hand to share information about available job opportunities in the region.  IU Health Positive Link will be providing free HIV Screening.  Ivy Tech will be staffing the First Aid Station, newly relocated onto the courthouse lawn for 2019.


Camden’s Carnival, which is the festival’s family fun area located on Market Street, will house a variety of games, inflatables, & activities for all-ages.  Most popular among the inflatables is the deluxe slip-n-slide, which is a must-do on a hot June afternoon.  Bloomington Airiology will be returning to the carnival again this year to demonstrate their aerial silk performances & to provide free lessons to those interested in learning about the fascinating skill of working with aerial silks.  The Spencer Pride Youth group Iris, who recently held an alternative prom attended by more than 80 LGBTQ+ & ally youth from throughout south central Indiana, will have a booth in the carnival for youth to hang out & learn more about that growing part of the Spencer Pride organization. 


One of the most engaging activities each year are the “choose-your-own raffles” which feature thousands of dollars of items for just $1 per raffle ticket.  The raffles will be located in the meeting room of the Spencer Pride commUnity center for the second year in a row.  Also located in the commUnity center will be official Spencer Pride merchandise, including limited edition 2019 t-shirts with a design created by local artist Grant Shorter.  Of course, Spencer Pride’s retail shop, Unity, will also be open throughout the event.  Unity focuses on selling locally made items from within Indiana.  It has become aintegral part of the shopping experience in downtown Spencer, along with the Dragonfly Gallery & the recently opened Juniper Gallery, both of whom are supporters of the Spencer Pride Festival.  Outside of the Spencer Pride commUnity center, the organization’s volunteers will be selling rainbow pride merchandise, snocones, & cotton candy (also known as “fairy floss”).


Other activities such as 50-50 drawings & random giveaways will take place throughout the duration of the event.  


Pride festivals have a rich history within the civil rights movement of the LGBTQ+ community.  Spencer Pride’s event offers a special blend of diversity & celebration that is less commonly associated with rural communities in conservative states like Indiana.  The Spencer Pride Festival is the largest rural LGBTQ+ gathering in the state of Indiana & it is the largest small town pride event for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, & queer community in the Midwest. Spencer Pride attracts visitors from throughout the the Midwest & beyond.


Spencer, Indiana is a small rural community of approximately 2,400 people. It is located 17 miles west of Bloomington & the beautifulcampus of Indiana University. For thirteen years, Spencer has become more & more known for its passionate LGBTQ+ & ally community.  The small town, once known as a conservative riverside community, is now a rural mecca for LGBTQ+ people & their supporters.  In 2018, the Spencer Pride Festival brought more than 3,000 people out in celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, more than doubling the size of the town itself.  


The organization is proud of the growth of their event, the wonderful community that supports it, & the attendees that passionately attend each year.  


“Eat some fried food, shop the marketplace, cool off in the slip-n-slide, & dry off on the lawn while enjoying the talents of amazing musical entertainers,” began Judi Epp, one of the organizations’  founders, “What is not to enjoy about Spencer Pride, one of the most fabulous summer festivals in Indiana?”


Spencer Pride is 100% family-focused & welcomes individuals of all ages & backgrounds.  Regardless of how you identify, you are welcome at Spencer Pride for a full-day of free, family fun!


The 2019 Spencer Pride Festival is sponsored by Walmart, Boston Scientific, Catalent Biologics, C.H. Douglas & Gray Wealth Management, IU Health, & many more organizations.   The historic Tivoli Theatre, WFHB, & Limestone Post are among its media sponsors. 

For more information regarding Spencer Pride, Inc., please visit www.SpencerPride.org or send questions to info@SpencerPride.org.  You can also find us on Facebook (SpencerPride), Twitter (@SpencerPrideInc), & Instagram (@SpencerPrideInc & @SpencerPrideYouth).



Pride Leaders Targeted; Community Response Begins

The incident was recently reported in the Herald-Times.

Within weeks of the failure of the Indiana State Legislature to pass comprehensive hate crimes legislation, the home of two of Spencer Pride’s founders was the target of several incidents of hate-driven trespass, vandalism, & theft.

Spencer Pride President Jonathan Balash, his husband Jacob, & 6-year old son live south of the town of Spencer in a home they have lived in for the past 10 years. The married couple, who have been together for 18 years, have resided in Owen County since 2001.

The incidents were described on Jonathan’s Facebook page on April 10 and 13. The couple state that on four occasions during the same week, individuals trespassed on their land with the intent to remove the pride flag that had been proudly flying alongside their rural country road.   The Facebook posts can be viewed here & here.

Jonathan & Jacob have done their best to make light of the situation & drive awareness to hate-motivated acts targeted at the LGBTQ+ community.

During the first few incidents, the perpetrators attempted to force the Balashes’ flagpole down by wrapping the pole with a steel chain and pulling it with a heavy-duty vehicle. This proved challenging due to the robust installation of the flagpole, which had been completed mindful of the fact that it could become a target.

According to an affidavit filed with the Owen County prosecutor by the Owen County Sheriff’s Department, the effort to bring down the flagpole ultimately failed when the vehicle’s bumper was torn off. While the pole did not come down, it was damaged significantly. Damage to the pole & the adjacent limestone wall has been estimated to cost $4,300. A few days later, the same location was targeted again. This time, the flagpole’s rope was cut & the flags were removed. The rainbow pride flag was then stolen. A trail cam that the couple had set up to identify the vandals was also taken.  All the incidents occurred under the cover of darkness at the couple’s home.

Immediately after the couple posted about the incidents on Facebook, the news of what had occurred traveled around the world & was shared by LGBTQ+ organizations in several countries. Social media support for the couple was very positive.  Some individuals responded to the incident by making donations to Spencer Pride in honor of Jonathan & Jacob.

Spencer Pride elected to respond by distributing free pride flags from the Spencer Pride commUnity center, which is located at 17 E. Franklin Street adjacent to the Owen County Courthouse. To date, more than 40 flags have been given out. Most recipients of the flags have volunteered to have their photo taken with the rainbow flag. As a result, rainbow colors are more prevalent than ever in the downtown area & across social media.  Since first announcing the flag distribution, the commUnity center has received increased visitors.  Many of those guests have attributed their attendance to be as a direct result of the flag distribution, or in general as a gesture of support for the LGBTQ+ community during this time.

Many individuals have come out to the Spencer Pride commUnity center to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community in response to the acts against the Balashes.


The Owen County Sheriff’s Department is treating the harassment of the Balash home as separate incidents & not as a single effort over multiple days. As a result of this decision, charges thus far have only been filed for criminal mischief & criminal trespass.  Both of these crimes are misdemeanors. Theft of the flag & camera, which would be a felony, have not been addressed. While the Owen County Sheriff’s Department’s investigation into the incidents is ongoing, to date only one person has been charged.   On one of the evenings where the vandalism took place at the Balash home, the same teens allegedly broke into cabins & stole thousands of dollars in electronics & miscellaneous items, including a firearm.   Charges related to that case have also been filed.  A preliminary hearing took place on April 18 at the Owen County Courthouse.  For more information on this, visit the Bloomington Herald-Times article that was published on April 19.

Several concerned citizens wrote letters to Owen County Judge Lori Quillen to stress the impact of the type of hate-focused crimes that are alleged to have taken place to the Balash home. Judith Epp, Spencer Pride Director, took the position that it is important to respond quickly & with the full force of the law.  “Treating this offense leniently sends a message that we don’t take it seriously,” Epp stated in her letter to Judge Quillen. “This isn’t about just one family, it’s about the entire community…Do we have to wait until one of us is personally violently assaulted [before action will be taken]?”

Joy Hellman, Spencer Pride Director & Youth Empowerment Lead, also wrote a letter.  Hellman, who has been instrumental in the forming of the Iris Youth Group, wrote her letter emphasizing the impact of this case on local LGBTQ+ youth. “The teens in this group have often spoken to me about not feeling safe due to the hateful acts of other teens.  This could be an opportunity to set a precedent, so that LGBTQ teens could feel more safe in their own community,” she wrote.

In total, at least 7 letters were sent to Judge Quillen to raise her awareness of the significance of this event.  These letters were sent to Quillen for her consideration during the preliminary hearing of the adult charged with the misdemeanor crimes.  To show additional support for the Balash family, approximately 10 local residents attended the hearing as well.

There is no question that this case was motivated by bias against the Balashes, who are a well-known gay couple that are involved in many organizations, most notably Spencer Pride. According to the aforementioned affidavit, Owen County Deputy Mitchell Fleetwood interviewed one of the individuals who confessed to the vandalism of the flagpole.  The deputy asked why the teens targeted that specific flagpole. The teen responded by saying that the residents of that home were “Big Time Queers.”

Regardless of this admission by the teen, no action is being taken by the Owen County Prosecutors Office to pursue increased penalties related to these crimes. The recently passed bias crimes legislation in Indiana, which does not serve to adequately define hate-motivated crimes, does not go into effect until July 1, 2019. It is questionable regarding whether the legislation would have enough teeth to be utilized in this type of incident, regardless.  The incident has been voluntarily reported to a National Hate Crimes Hotline due to the advocacy of several concerned citizens.


Jonathan & Jacob are known to be resilient when encountering these types of activities. When their pride flag has been targeted in the past, the couple has repeatedly responded by increasing the size of the flag, adding the flagpole, installing the limestone wall at the base of the flagpole, & other improvements.   The couple are vocal about the importance of LGBTQ+ visibility, especially in rural areas.

Jonathan Balash is currently serving as the President of Spencer Pride, Inc.

“We will not be pushed back into the closet by an ignorant Minority,” said Jonathan when asked about their responses to these incidents. “We continue to become more & more visible every time that someone tries to use our home as a target for their hate. Their acts are intending to scare us. We aren’t going to respond to their efforts with fear & anger. Instead, we choose to focus our energy on how to continue our work with Spencer Pride to make Indiana a more welcoming place for all people.”

Jacob is no less passionate about how the couple responds to the acts of hate. He also noted why comprehensive hate crimes legislation is important for Hoosiers. “This was more than trespassing. It was more than vandalism. It was more than theft. This was a concerted effort over several days to violate our property & terrorize my family. It is scary that people would carry out such actions because we are a same-sex household,” Jacob notes.

Jacob went on: “We are proud to live in Owen County & over the past two decades we’ve been overwhelmed by how welcoming our community is. This is where we have decided to raise our son. We aren’t going anywhere.”

In addition to repairing the damage done, the couple is also working to install power at the end of the driveway to support the installation of lights & cameras in order to deter further vandalism & theft. These efforts are challenged by the distance of the mailbox from their home, which is 1/4 mile down the driveway. While the couple works to put these long-term precautions in place, they have added some additional cameras to the space.

Jonathan & Jacob want to emphasize that crimes targeted at the LGBTQ+ community take place every day throughout the world.  “This isn’t a Spencer, Indiana, issue.  This isn’t a rural issue.  This is an issue from the rolling hills of San Francisco to the rolling hills of Spencer,” Jonathan stated.

Jacob Balash is a member of the Spencer Pride Board of Directors & is the Retail Manager for Unity, the organization’s shop in downtown Spencer.

Jacob immediately added: “We want to raise awareness about this event to serve as an example.  Although this did impact us emotionally, we want people to know that it could have been much worse.  Around the world right now, people are being bullied, harassed, fired, & even stoned to death for being gay.  It has to stop.”


Individuals who would like to show their support for the Balashes & other victims of hate-motivated crimes towards the LGBTQ+ community can do so in a variety of ways.

  1. Talk about this incident with people. Share it on social media. Engage with a coworker or neighbor. Bringing visibility to specific incidents like this raises awareness of the need for comprehensive hate crimes legislation.
  2. Proudly display a Pride Flag at your home or business. This tells people that you support the LGBTQ+ community & that you don’t want them to have to stand alone. If you do not own a pride flag, you can stop by the Spencer Pride commUnity center in downtown Spencer for a free one. The organization will continue distributing the flags for free over the coming weeks to help promote awareness of the events & to increase visible LGBTQ+ support in the community. Larger flags are available inexpensively on Amazon & at other retailers.
  3. Make a contribution to Spencer Pride on behalf of the Balash Family. The couple is known to be “Big Time Queers” because of their work with the organization. Making a financial donation to continue Spencer Pride’s work sends the message that we will not be bullied & that we will respond to events like this with more education & visibility.
  4. Become a volunteer with Spencer Pride. Our organization is 100% volunteer-powered & we have a lot of work that needs to be done to further educate our community in support of our mission to make Indiana a more welcoming place for all people.
  5. Attend the upcoming Spencer Pride Festival on June 1st.  Participating in the event shows how important LGBTQ+ people are within our community.  By attending the festival, you allow Spencer Pride to further our important work.

Spencer Pride will continue to provide updates about this matter.  For more information about how you can help Spencer Pride’s mission to make Indiana a more welcoming place, please e-mail info@SpencerPride.org. To learn more about the work of Spencer Pride & to get details about the 2019 Spencer Pride Festival, visit www.SpencerPride.org.

2019 Spencer Pride Festival Marketplace

The 2019 Spencer Pride Festival is fast approaching!  Vendor registration has been exceeding all prior records.    As of April 30, 2019, the following vendors will be participating in our festival marketplace:

  • ACLU of Indiana
  • Allie & Tess
  • Anthem
  • Aprons from the Heartland
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of South-Central Indiana
  • Bill’s Rustic Furniture
  • Bliss Glass
  • Bloomington PRIDE (Includes Prism Youth Community; LGBT Aging & Caring Network;  TASC)
  • Bloomington Meadows Hospital
  • Boston Scientific PACE
  • BrightStarGlass
  • Cardinal Spirits
  • Cardinal Stage Company
  • Catalent Biologics
  • C.H. Douglas & Gray Wealth Management
  • Civilian Brewing Corps.
  • Cruise Planners – Naptown Travel
  • DJ’s Crafts & Sweets
  • DoTerra
  • Drunken Bard
  • El Centro Comunal Latino
  • Elanco
  • First United Church
  • Friends of the Forest
  • Fun Art
  • GenderNexus
  • Geno’s Kettle Corn
  • Grimnir’s Crossroad Kindred
  • Hope Holistice Massage and Untethered Sole Foot Reflexology
  • Indiana Adoption Program
  • Indiana Crossroads Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
  • Indiana Donor Network
  • Indiana Health Centers – Owen County
  • IU Health & Wellness
  • IU Health Bloomington – Positive Link
  • IU School of Social Work
  • Ivy Tech Community College – Bloomington
  • Jack of All Braids
  • Jacob’s Photography
  • Laci’s Bags
  • Larry Harris Quilts
  • Life of Love (LOL)
  • LifeJourney Church
  • Mary Kay Skincare
  • Meadows Bakery
  • Monroe County NOW
  • Moon Goddess Arts
  • My Sunshine Pet Apparel
  • National Association of Social Workers – Indiana Chapter
  • New Moon Divination LLC
  • Newton’s Legacy Woodworking & Engraving LLC
  • Osmon Chiropractic
  • Owen County Civic Theatre
  • Owen County Democratic Party
  • Owen County Humane Society
  • Owen County Public Library Bookmobile
  • Paws-Abilities, Inc.
  • PFLAG Hanover/Madison
  • Pink Zebra
  • Planned Parenthood of Indiana & Kentucky
  • Pride Lafayette
  • Pride on the Wabash
  • Pride Sweets (brought to you by Spencer Pride)
  • Project Pink Bloc
  • Putnam County Hospital
  • Putnam Pride Initiative
  • Quarryland Men’s Chorus
  • Right on Q Concessions
  • Rye’s Concessions
  • Shine Insurance Agency
  • Silky’s Specialty Items
  • Simply Divine Suds
  • Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
  • Spencer Main Street
  • Mark’s United Methodist Church
  • Stonewall Democrats of South Central Indiana
  • Sue Westhues
  • SuPaca Farms, LLC
  • Sweet Valley Ice Cream
  • The Back Door
  • The Litter Box Kitty Rescue
  • The Painted Lady
  • The Satanic Temple Indiana Chapter
  • The Shucker Shack
  • Tivoli Theatre
  • Tree Top Terrace Farms
  • TREES, Inc.
  • Tricoci University
  • Triple M Concessions
  • Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington
  • Uplands PEAK Sanctuary
  • Walmart
  • White River Valley PFLAG – Spencer Chapter
  • Window to My Soul
  • Wired Whimsy
  • Youth Services Bureau of Monroe County
  • ZenWithin

If you are interested in taking part in our festival marketplace, please register today at www.SpencerPride.org/portal.

Note: there are no longer any booth spaces available on the courthouse lawn. All registrations as of April 22, 2019 will be placed on the street in either the food area or carnival area (at the discretion of Spencer Pride, Inc.)