THEY SAID A TOWN OF 2,217 COULDN’T HOST A PRIDE, BUT FOR FIVE YEARS SPENCER’S PROVEN THEM WRONG

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This article was taken from the “Inside Pride” insert in the June 2011 edition of The WORD.  To go to The WORD’s website and see the full issue, click here.
THEY SAID A TOWN OF 2,217 COULDN’T HOST A PRIDE, BUT FOR FIVE YEARS SPENCER’S PROVEN THEM WRONG 

SPENCER, Indiana—Whenever we at The Word tell the cities where we will be attending prides (Lexington, Lafayette, Cincinnati, Dayton, Fort Wayne, Evansville and Spencer) we get a double take.

Spencer? Spencer? Where in the hell IS Spencer? is the usual reaction, but what folks don’t know is that the town’s population (2,217 in the 2010 census) doubles on the annual Spencer Pride day and this is the 5th year they will be doing so, as this South-Central Indiana town and the surrounding area turn out in far greater percentages than even Indianapolis or Louisville. Imagine if 500,000 showed up in Indy or 350,000 came in Louisville. That would be about the same percentage. And not only is the population swelled by the masses who turn out, so are a lot of chests as this area gets into their pride in a way the “big cities” can never do.

Participants in the 2011 Spencer Pride Festival – including local businesses and community organisations – are eagerly anticipating this year’s event which will be held on Saturday the 4th of June from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on the south lawn of the Owen County Courthouse. You read that right — not hidden away behind some fence on some private or leased land, but in the centre of town on the Courthouse Lawn.

Organisers told The Word, “The Spencer Pride Festival is an event that celebrates the values and diversity of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and affirming community.  It has been a popular, rapidly-growing family-friendly event in the small rural community of Spencer in south central Indiana.”

This year’s festival features a marketplace with more than 50 retail and informational booths as well as a full day of live local musicians and other entertainers.

Musicians participating include Amanda Biggs, Bonzo Terks, Megan Maudlin, Mikial Robertson, the Snake Oil Sideshow and the Quarryland Men’s Chorus.  Other entertainers include drag kings and queens from throughout the Hoosier state.  The drag entertainment is being coordinated by Vicci Laine and Uncle Elizabeth’s, a Bloomington bar and sponsor of Spencer Pride. Most of the live music has been organised by local recording studio Stable Studios.
Parking, admission and entertainment are all free, which organisers noted, “makes the festival affordable as well as educational and enjoyable. It also ensures that a wide range of individuals are able to participate in the event.” Festival organisers expect nearly 1,000 people to attend the 5th anniversary celebration of Spencer Pride.

The festival marketplace will feature a wide variety of businesses and organisations.  There are sections such as “Arts and Crafts,” “Animal Welfare,” “Health and Wellness,” and many others. There will be a variety of savoury and sweet food options, including slow-cooked pork over a hickory fire from Booher’s Barbeque, homemade vegetarian chili from ChiliHat concessions and ice cream floats from Omnihorse, for example.

Shannon Edwards and Christa VanMeter, owners and operators of SYCK Girl Games, will be representing their business at this year’s marketplace and they are thrilled about the small town atmosphere which few prides elsewhere boast. “Growing up in small agricultural towns, we are both so excited to celebrate our identities at Spencer Pride and to bring our products to our gay rural communities!” SYCK Girl Games features such products as the ‘Just Married Game,’ a gender neutral couples game.

Rev. Christopher Breedlove, Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Jasper, will be representing his church and their Common Grounds ministry at this year’s event.  Trinity United Church is just one of the churches participating. They will be located in the “Faith, Spirituality, and Personal Beliefs” area. Other churches scheduled to attend include the Spencer Presbyterian Church and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington.

“I am proud to be a part of this year’s Spencer Pride Festival,” Breedlove said.  “As a pastor, I am deeply moved by the perseverance and confidence of the children of God who have full assurance that a loving God created them and affirms their full identity.”  Breedlove went on to say that “as a ‘straight,’ I am a committed advocate and supporter for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and inquiring equality issues.  I’m looking forward to an empowering and affirming Spencer Pride Festival.”

Loretta Jackson will be assisting with one of the booths at event.  “This is my first year participating in the Spencer Pride event and it feels like reaching out & giving our special community a big hug from me by standing up and being counted as a member!”
Jackson is just one of the many new individuals who stepped up to join Spencer Pride this year.  The addition of these new members has been a significant help in putting together the event, according to Spencer Pride President Jonathan Balash.

Local resident Cathy Wyatt and her husband Dan are supporters of the festival, too.  Recently, Cathy has also been helping with festival organisation and preparation. “As a parent of a gay child, I am still adjusting to both personal and parental challenges,” she said.  “Deeply listening to my son and participating in P-FLAG and Spencer Pride activities have given me healthier views and greater understanding in the process.”  Wyatt is eagerly anticipating this year’s festival where she will be selling baked goods in support of the White River Valley Parents, Friends, and Families of Lesbians and Gays (P-FLAG).

The Spencer Pride Festival is sponsored by Positive Link, a programme of Indiana University Health Bloomington, as well as by Helen Harrell and Carol Fischer, the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University, The Word, bloomingOUT, and the White River Valley P-FLAG.  In total, more than 30 businesses, organisations, and individuals have already contributed as sponsors to this year’s event. This support highlights the importance of Spencer Pride to the region.

“The Spencer Pride Festival is a vital part of gay, lesbian, bi & trans outreach in this rural community,” said Judi Epp, resident of nearby Poland, Indiana. “It demonstrates to young and old that you can find support here and that it’s ok to be who you really are.”

Epp is the secretary of Spencer Pride and participates in the organisation alongside her wife and partner of 33 years. Her comments reflect the sentiment of many people from the community and are further illustrated by this year’s festival theme, Born This Way.

Although event admission is free, Spencer Pride does offer a variety of ways to support the continuation of its annual festival.  Individuals can make donations at the event (tax-deductable due to the public charity status of Spencer Pride, Inc.) or can purchase items through the silent auction. The auction features many items donated by the local community, including art as well as a variety of baskets with items such as cooking tools, pet supplies, wine, games, candles and much more.

Spencer Pride, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to proudly and honestly promote, support, and celebrate lesbian, gay, bi, trans and questioning values and diversity in south central Indiana. The group not only organises the Spencer Pride Festival each year but they put on and sponsor a variety of other rural-focused educational events aimed at the community.

“Join us on the 4th of June as we celebrate five years of rural pride,” Balash said.  “It’s a simple way to show your support for the gay and lesbian community and have a fabulous time while doing so.”