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Spencer Pride

Director’s Corner – Jonathan

Each month, the directors of Spencer Pride will be bringing you a bit of themselves. This will be a way for the directors to share a more personal side with the community. The idea for this “Director’s Corner” was discussed at our annual retreat and it was agreed that much of what is known of the directors is through an email address or a photo in the commUnity center. Sure, some directors have developed relationships with the community, but we also have new directors who are also new to the community. We hope you enjoy getting to know a bit more of the directors of Spencer Pride.

Up next is Jonathan, the Pride Festival Director and Board President!

Jonathan Balash (he/him/his)

The Fog


Often, I am asked “how  do you stay so positive?”  I wish I could respond that it was natural to me, but that would be a lie.  I’ve fought throughout my life with the inclination to assume the worst – especially about myself.   According to the American Psychological Association, Depression is “a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act.”  I am one of the 1-in-6 Americans who will struggle with depression at some point in their life.

For me, depression was something I had observed throughout my family.   When my own symptoms began to materialize in my teenage years, I struggled.  No matter what was happening in my life, it seemed, I frequently felt only deep sadness.

This unjustified emotion plagued me for years, and made coming to terms with my sexuality more confusing and complicated that it might otherwise have been.  This resulted in a whack-a-mole approach to “coming out,” wherein I would tell a few people and live openly for a period of time, only to then slam the closet door shut again and reverse course.  Depression is something I will likely always battle, and thankfully I’ve learned to forge some powerful weapons to combat it.

Right now, I observe many people struggling with what has been happening in America today, and I can’t help but correlate our collective reactions to how I’ve felt in my life when tackling my own mental health.

It is true that there is a grey fog blanketing our nation today, and it’s not from the Canadian wildfires or exuberant Independence Day firework displays.  It’s a fog of despair, and it’s been spewing out of state legislatures (including in Indianapolis) and our U.S. Supreme Court building for the past 12 months.

From the Dobbs decision forcing women to become incubators for the State, to the Creative 303 ruling legitimizing discrimination of LGBTQ+ people, to the elimination of affirmative action (which was proven to be the most successful tool in diversifying higher education), our highest court in the land has been re-writing civil rights and re-framing the values of diversity in America.  We’ve observed some state legislatures barring elected officials from in-person voting (Nevada) or removing them from office altogether (Tennessee).  Here in Indiana, our own elected officials drank the far-right’s Kool-Aid and passed hateful legislation that bans gender affirming healthcare for youth.  States’ efforts even have led to restrictions on artistic expression, including the banning of books and drag.

With all this happening, it’s easy to see why so many people are finding it hard to maintain a positive outlook on their lives and the direction of our country, from the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters.  We made much progress over the last couple of decades and all of a sudden this backlash (rooted in ignorance and fueled by fear) makes it hard to see a clear path of continued progress.  For within this “man-made” fog, our humanity may begin to blur in the dim light: our neighbors become mere silhouettes who are more easily perceived to be our enemies.

Reflecting on these circumstances, I think that it is first important to recognize that what is happening is a reaction to significant progress that has been made in achieving greater equality and equity in the United States (and around the world, although not everywhere).  We should acknowledge this and realize that we are (as our president would say) in the battle “for the soul of America.”

I believe that the efforts we’ve seen to roll-back rights of minorities are the desperate efforts of those who’ve historically held the power in our country, and who see that power shifting dramatically in recent times.   When we recognize that these efforts aren’t a sea-change in our culture, but are the isolated actions of a powerful few, it is easier to put these them into perspective.

Second, it is important to take responsibility for the progress we’ve made and the progress we have yet to achieve in working towards equality for everyone regardless of their gender identity, expression, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, and ability.  We cannot give up hope as we are necessary in this ongoing effort valuing diversity and working towards greater inclusion.  We cannot let this fog of despair confuse us.   If we lose sight of our own ability to make change, then we will truly experience a major setback in the world we are working to create.

When I struggled most with my depression, I came to realize that I could influence my frame of mind, and that when I practiced doing so that I could change my reactions to external events and effectively modify my own behaviors.

When I truly came to understand the power of this self-awareness and the power of the choices I could make (no matter what circumstances presented themselves to me), I transformed into the man I am today.  I know that I can deal with whatever comes my way, shaping even tragic and difficult situations into opportunities to grow myself and my community.   I learned that I could take the passion that I have and – through conscious intervention and routine reaffirmation – use it as a force for good.    Some of my proudest achievements in life came from this, including the tremendous success we’ve seen through the work of Spencer Pride.

No matter what is happening in the world today, I promise that you have options in how you respond.   The choices you make today can influence a better tomorrow.

As all fogs lift when warmed by the sun, I believe that this fog, too, will dissipate when exposed to the heat generated by the passionate and persistent people working to educate, cultivate empathy, demonstrate respect, demand change, and collaborate on solutions.  It will lift because of we – THE PEOPLE – doing everything that we can to individually and collectively contribute to a better tomorrow.   If you aren’t already actively working to build a better tomorrow, I invite you begin today.

A great first step is volunteering with organizations like Spencer Pride.  If you are interested in joining our efforts to cultivate a community of compassion and celebration for all people, you can apply to become a volunteer with us here.