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:, 765-481-8798

Jonathan Balash, President & Festival Director:, 812-821-3073

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.

Spencer Pride Board Expresses Thoughts on Legislation Impacting LGBTQ+ Hoosiers

The following statement was issued from the Spencer Pride Board of Directors regarding two pieces of legislation currently being considered by the Indiana General Assembly:

The Spencer Pride Board of Directors strongly supports the passage of a comprehensive hate crimes law in Indiana.  This bill would allow for imposing stronger penalties upon conviction of bias-related crimes against people on the basis of another individual’s actual or perceived age, ancestry, color, creed, disability, ethnicity, familial status, gender identity, military service, national origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.  Indiana is among only 5 states without such legislation.


The lack of a hate crimes law in Indiana has had a negative impact on economic development initiatives and has given Indiana the reputation of not being a welcoming state.  This contradicts Spencer Pride’s mission of making Indiana a more welcoming place for ALL people.

Support for hate crimes legislation is bipartisan.  Hate crimes legislation is supported by Governor Eric Holcomb.  We, as directors of Spencer Pride, encourage all state legislators to vote yes on House Bill 1203 (Bias Motivated Crimes).

The Spencer Pride Board of Directors does not support House Bill 1525 (Biological Sexual Identity), which further exacerbates bias and hate.  In addition to creating a poor environment for our youth, this bill would add burdens to our state schools, including new infrastructure requirements & difficult-to-enforce monitoring requirements.

The Spencer Pride Board of Directors urges legislators to vote NO on House Bill 1525.

Spencer Pride Board of Directors Statement Regarding the 2016 Presidential Election: Our Work Continues

With the results of 2016 election still reverberating through the nation, we understand the many concerns being voiced about the potential impact of the Trump-Pence administration on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, & queer (LGBTQ+) community. Spencer Pride is committed to continuing our educational work & services in order to make our rural community & state a more welcoming place for all people.

election2016-356x233Our educational efforts are essential regardless of who would have won the election, although we do anticipate an increased need for our services as a result of the specific outcome this year.   The Trump-Pence ticket was very vocal in its plans to roll back the civil rights of LGBTQ+ people.  As Hoosiers, we certainly know how Mike Pence (our Governor & now VP-elect) wants to approach LGBTQ+ civil rights.  As governor of Indiana, he is probably most well-known for signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  RFRA allows for businesses to discriminate against gay & lesbian people.  Spencer Pride has been outspoken in our opposition of RFRA or in any legislation that takes away the freedom of our fellow Hoosiers.

Spencer Pride will continue to engage with our community & educate citizens about LGBTQ+ people & issues.  We know that through one-on-one discussions & broader educational activities, we improve the climate for LGBTQ+ individuals.  We have done this for the past 10 years with great success. CommUnity Center Logo JPG

In addition to educating others about the LGBTQ+ community, we also provide support services directly to members of the LGBTQ+ community. Individuals who need our assistance or support can contact us by visiting the Spencer Pride commUnity center (located at 46 E. Market Street in downtown Spencer, Indiana), calling 812-652-5000, or e-mailing us at  Our commUnity center is a certified Safe Place & an LGBTQ+ Safe Zone.  Our volunteers at the center are trained to assist individuals in need.

Finally, Spencer Pride is also working to bring greater protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, & queer people by working to enact a local human rights ordinance (HRO). This ordinance is a key part of our 5 year strategic plan, & we will be increasing our focus on this initiative in the coming months & years.

Other information about our efforts to make Indiana a more welcoming place for ALL people can be found on our website at

We sincerely hope that President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Pence are able to evolve from their previous discriminatory positions about the LGBTQ+ community. We encourage their administration to continue ensuring that America is an inclusive & welcoming country.


Spencer Pride’s Statement on the Orlando Massacre

Last night, in what is now the deadliest mass shooting in United States’ history, at least 50 people were killed & another 53 injured in an Orlando gay night club.
Throughout the world, LGBTQI people & their allies celebrate June as Pride Month. It is a time to reflect on how far society has come towards accepting gay, lesbian, & transgender people – but even more importantly – an opportunity for each one of us to take a moment to be proud of who we are. We were born this way & we need to take the time to celebrate that fact without any shame.
Pride Month is also a time to consider how much farther we still have to go in educating the public about LGBTQI people.
Please take a moment today to think of those who were lost last night & for the families they left behind. Then, consider what you can do to help enlighten others about LGBTQI civil rights. Perhaps, you could stand up for a student you’ve seen picked on at school. Maybe, you could write a letter or make a phone call to an elected official about important legislation that affects the LGBTQI community at large. Or, simply give your son or daughter a big hug and tell them how proud you are of who they have become.
We are confident that the massacre in Orlando won’t send us back into our closets in fear; rather, it will rally & unify our community to continue our efforts for full LGBTQI equality. We hope that you’ll join us.

A Message from Spencer Pride’s President

Throughout the life of a healthy organization, there are moments when it must decide whether to stay on the well-worn path or to venture into uncharted territory.  In the past 10 years, Spencer Pride, Inc. has never been afraid to take risks to further our efforts.  In fact, our volunteers have always jumped at the opportunity to do more for our community.    Our risks have paid off.  We learn from our mistakes, & we have found that by pushing our own boundaries we actually find that our capabilities actually far exceeded our initial expectations.

In 2007, the very first Spencer Pride event was a free picnic in Cooper Commons Park coordinated by the local Parents, Family & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) group.  A year later, mother nature presented an opportunity for the event to be more than just a picnic by the river; rather, our picnic was transplanted to the center of town and onto the lawn of the county courthouse where it could flourish.  That change meant a lot more responsibility & visibility for our event.  We rose to the occasion, & just 8 short years later the Spencer Pride Festival has become the second largest event in downtown Spencer.  In 2016, more than 100 booths participated in our festival marketplace, & our sponsors consisted of some of the largest employers in the area, including Cook Group & Boston Scientific Corporation.

Market Street ShopWithin a few years of our festival’s move to the courthouse, Spencer Pride, Inc. began celebrating LGBT history month in October with film screenings & community dialogues about issues relevant to rural lesbian, gay, bisexual, & transgender people.  Each year we focused on new topics that would stir discussion & education within the local community.  In 2013, those film screenings blossomed into “A Night at the Tivoli,” what has become one of the largest LGBT history month events in south central Indiana.   While our film event grew, so did other educational activities such as our educational library displays.  In our first year those displays were featured in 7 local libraries.  Now, more than 25 local libraries & schools in 8 counties display our LGBT history creations.  These achievements didn’t happen by accident.  Our hard-working volunteers – with the help of our sponsors & other supporters – made them happen.

In addition to our annual events, we also provide a variety of services to the community.  Diversity education panels are one of those services.  This panel, consisting of members of the LGBTQI community & their families & friends, educates groups on topics pertinent to the LGBTQI community.  One of the more popular uses of this panel is for employee diversity awareness training.  Multiple area Walmart locations have hosted these panels.  We’ve also participated in panels at Indiana University in response to bullying on campus.  We offer these panels as a free service.

There are many more examples that I could give about how we have demonstrated a willingness to take big steps & to show how those steps have resulted in huge successes for our organization & its mission.  As we celebrate our 10th anniversary, our organization took a look at what we have become & what we would like to be over the next decade.  First & foremost we want to continue the events & activities for which we have become known.  Second, we are ready to once again step onto the less-worn path by embarking on a new adventure: a permanent year-round presence in downtown Spencer. 

What does this mean?  It means that Spencer Pride, Inc. will be operating a community center in downtown Spencer where we will offer our educational services, provide space for other not-for-profits to further their own mission, & provide a new service to the community by becoming a certified “Safe Place.”  The “Safe Place”  designation is intended to represent places where struggling youth can go & seek help.  Our volunteers will be able to refer youth in need to a variety of local services available to them.  In addition to the aforementioned activities, the community center will also sell some items in order to bring in donations that further our overall mission to educate the community about rural LGBTQI people and issues.   The community center will continue to be 100% volunteer run, as are all of our activities.

Our building is located at 46 E. Market Street in Spencer, on the courthouse square.  It is an ideal location for our organization due to both its visibility in the community as well as its proximity to both of our main annual events.

We signed a long-term lease at a substantial discount from market rental rates.  The landlord is a strong supporter of Spencer Pride, Inc. & has made a significant financial commitment to restore our building & bring it to modern standards.  This will occur in two phases.  The first phase is already complete.  The landlord executed a substantial renovation of the front of the building so that Spencer Pride could take possession of it.  This included a new roof, updated electrical wiring, demolition & reconstruction of interior walls, & several other key activities to make the space usable for us.  The second phase will include a full restoration ‘from street to alley.’  Updated heating, installation of air conditioning, flooring, & a bathroom are some of the items that will be included with phase two, which is expected to be in process over the next 6-18 months.

Because of the two-phased approach with the renovation, our usage of the space will also evolve.  Initially we will be working within a smaller footprint.  We will be able to certify it as a “Safe Place,” utilize it for our meetings, & have some retail space (100% of all profits would work to further our educational pursuits).  Once the second phase has been completed, we will expand to the entire building.  This will greatly increase our ability to hold educational events & to allow other not-for-profits to share the space.  We have additional ideas for how to use the building that our Board of Directors & volunteers are still considering.

Over the next several months, we will be sharing updates on our progress in getting the community center ready for its September Grand Opening.  We are also seeking sponsors who can help us to achieve our goals for the community center.  Sponsorship money will be used for training programs for our volunteers (in order to support our effort to designate the center as a “Safe Place”); purchase furniture, technology, & supplies to make the space functional for meetings & other educational events; overhead; & to acquire other items deemed necessary by the board to meet our objectives for the new building.

If you wish to become a community center sponsor, please contact me.  You can reach me via e-mail at or via telephone at 812-821-3073.  If you wish, I can also meet you at our Market Street building to show you the space & walk you through the opportunities that you can help make a reality.

Thank you for supporting us as we begin this new and exciting adventure for Spencer Pride.

Jonathan A Balash Signature




Jonathan Balash

President, Spencer Pride Inc.

Spencer Pride Board Issues Letter to Indiana Legislators & Governor Pence

This past week, the Spencer Pride Inc. Board of Directors issued a letter to several local and prominent legislators in the Indiana General Assembly.  The letter was also issued to Governor Mike Pence.  In the letter, the Board expressed their thoughts on the pending LGBT legislation in the Indiana General Assembly.  An example of one of the letters (the one written to local Senator Eric Bassler) is shown below.

Volunteers of Spencer Pride will be a the statehouse rally on Wednesday, January 27th. 

Subject:  LGBT Non-discrimination & the 2016 Legislative Session of the Indiana General Assembly

Dear Senator Bassler:

On behalf of Spencer Pride, Inc., we wish to express our support for efforts to add ‘sexual orientation, gender identity” to the state’s nondiscrimination law.  We believe that this will guarantee that all people in our state are treated fairly and with respect.  This is a simple solution that will address a big problem for Hoosiers that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.

Right now in most places in Indiana you can be fired from your job, kicked out of your house, or denied service because of who you are and whom you love.

The passage of the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015 made the situation even worse than it had been before.  While many communities and states throughout the country are working diligently to be more inclusive of LGBT people, Indiana legislators instead chose to take a more regressive path.

RFRA is detrimental to the reputation of Hoosier people and Hoosier businesses.  Although the consequences of that legislation will continue to reverberate for years to come, adding protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Hoosiers will do much to limit further damages.

State code already contains non-discrimination protections based on race, gender, veteran status and religion.  We do not believe that adding protections for the LGBT community in any way infringes upon those existing rights.  We believe that eliminating RFRA and adding protections for LGB & T citizens are essential in order to ensure that Indiana competes in the national and global marketplace.

There are many proposals circulating in the legislature regarding this issue, but many of them do more harm than good.  When considering these proposals we recommend that you do the following:

  • Support legislation that adds protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, AND transgender community.
    • The best approach is to add ‘sexual orientation, gender identity’ to the states nondiscrimination law. Senate Bill 2 does this, and we support this approach.
    • Senate Bill 344 is an attempt to add protections for some Hoosiers, but it does not include transgender people. Therefore, we do not support it.
  • Reject proposals that limit the ability of local governments to make their own decisions about adopting even more inclusive civil rights protections.
    • Senate Bill100 would override existing municipal civil rights protections. We do not agree with this.
    • Senate Bill 66 would allow businesses and individuals to ignore existing local LGBT anti-discrimination statutes. This would do nothing to protection LGBT people, but rather, it works to harm them further.
  • Reject proposals that add exceptions to the protections of LGBT people

Thank you for consideration of this important issue.


Spencer Pride Inc. Board of Directors

Jonathan A. Balash, President & Director;

Judith Epp, Treasurer & Director; 

Katie Zuber, Secretary & Director;

Kim Fidler, Director; 

Eric Jones, Director;

Cathy Wyatt, Director