How to Start a Pride in Your Community

On this anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, the acknowledgement of which led to the establishment of what we now know as “Pride” events, we wanted to take a few minutes to share our tips for establishing rural & small-town LGBTQ+ Pride organizations or events.

The 2021 Spencer Pride Festival takes place on October 16 from 12-7 PM in downtown Spencer, Indiana.

We are often asked “How did you start your Pride?” or “Can you give us some advice as we start our Pride?” and we are always happy to do so.   Today, we are sharing some of that advice, in case you or someone you know is wanting to start a Pride in your local small town or rural community.

First, let us take a quick moment to say that we have been hosting the Spencer Pride Festival for the past 15 years and are continuously growing and learning.   We are proud of the work we have done in establishing our festival, the Spencer Pride commUnity center, and our other programming.   We do not presume to be experts about all things LGBTQ+ Pride.  We do, however, gladly share what we have learned from our own experience in the hope of making it easier for the next person to start their own LGBTQ+ Pride organization.

Now, on to our advice:

Tip #1: Find other people who are willing to dedicate their time and energy to helping you establish your Pride.    At a minimum, you will need several people to do even a small event.   They will all need to be passionate about LGBTQ+ equality but don’t all need to think the same way that you do about how to make that happen (in fact, it’s better to have diversity of thought and experience among your volunteers).   Once you have found some people to help, take the time to get to know each other.  You will need to rely on a strong relationship of trust to work together under ever-changing & sometimes stressful situations.

Volunteer Judi attends the Putnam Pride Block Party in June 2021, to show support for Pride in Greencastle and to promote the 2021 Spencer Pride Festival.

Tip #2: Attend (and ideally get involved with) Pride events in similar communities to learn more about what it takes to organize your own event.   It will help you learn what it takes to organize a Pride event and establish valuable connections, all while helping a fellow Pride to be successful.  If geographic distance is a barrier to becoming more involved, reach out and see if there is a way you can help them virtually.  Every bit of your time that you invest will ultimately help your Pride, too.

Tip #3: While many people will tell you what your Pride ‘should’ be, only you* can decide what you want or need your Pride to be.   “Pride” is not a one-size-fits-all thing.  It is unique to your community, volunteers, approach, and resources.    Pride can be two people meeting privately together to celebrate their LGBTQ+ identity.  Pride can be 10,000 people marching down Main Street.  Pride can be a single event, a month of events, or year-round programming.   Some Prides are focused on celebrating, while others on education or advocacy.  Many try to do all of those things, but it is up to you* as to how your Pride will work. (*By “you,” we mean the team of volunteers helping to organize your event.)

The first-ever Spencer Pride Festival took place in 2007 & was a small event in a local park. The event now brings thousands of people into the small south central Indiana community.

Tip #4: Start now.   Don’t wait for the “right/perfect time.”  Things are not going to get better locally just because we see a national trend of greater LGBTQ+ acceptance (Remember: the legalization of gay marriage in the United States did not cause sweeping acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in your town).  To begin, plan your first event.  Make it amazing.  It can be a picnic in a local park, parade, a full-blown festival, or something unique to your community.

Tip #5: Address the “organizational” aspects (creating a non-profit, etc.) after you pull off your first successful event and are able to get the support of others.  It is kind of like “the cart coming before the horse” and can cause you to spend a lot of effort at the expense of your first event.   You will learn a lot from your first event and this may impact how you focus your organization’s efforts, so you should hold off on formalizing your group until you have a little experience behind you.

Tip #6: You will need to learn the right balance of urgency and patience.  Yes, we need acceptance for LGBTQ+ people now in order to hinder bullying at your high school.  We need it now to ensure that employees of local business know that they do not need to fear being fired simply for being true to themselves.   We need it now to prevent the next hate crime against our community.   We know the impact of not having equality for LGBTQ+ people, but we also have to work towards achieving that vision in a sustainable fashion.   Sometimes you have to take what Jonathan Balash, Spencer Pride’s president, has called “the Slower Path.”  Do what is right for long-term change in your community.

Speaking of patience, you will need it if you follow our next tip.

Spencer Pride volunteers staff the 7 PM showing at the Historic Tivoli Theatre on the second Saturday of every month, to help the local theatre & create visibility for Spencer Pride.

Tip #7: Develop allies among local business owners and other community leaders.  These people can be powerful defenders of your work and can help you access resources and people networks that you will need to be successful.  Keep in mind that you may need to begin establishing these relationships subtly and with a focus on educating them on the basics about why Pride is needed (or even explain things like the terms listed in the ‘LGBTQ+’ acronym).  Accept where they are right now and focus on how to get them to the next level, then the next, etc.   When we began, we could not get local business owners to support our work.  Then, they did so but wanted to remain anonymous.  Eventually, we found them to be proud to support our work and to help us be successful.

Tip #8: Remember that Pride can happen anytime and the benefits we get from having Pride events are needed year-round.   It is not something just for Pride month in June or LGBTQ+ history month in October.   As a matter of fact, it may be helpful to plan your first event outside of June or October to avoid conflicting with existing events.

Tip #9: Don’t just ‘overcome’ – become stronger after each obstacle/challenge that you encounter.  If you see these moments as opportunities to educate others and your own organization about how to be better, it will make them easier to deal with and will benefit your Pride.

Tip #10 Expect to put in a lot of time and energy into establishing your Pride, but never forget that your work is meaningful to countless people.  There are literally hundreds of things you’ll ultimately need to do to have an event, hundreds more to become an organization, and hundreds more to get the support of others and to promote your work.  That is just your first year.  It sounds like a lot, but it is worthwhile work that will make a difference in your community.  If you get frustrated, just remember the local teen who will see your existence as affirmation of their identity.  Remember the senior citizen who will see your successes as an essential piece of hope that they are desperately seeking.  Simply put, remember all of the people whose lives you are impacting through your efforts to promote understanding, acceptance, & celebration of the LGBTQ+ community.   You will never know the number of people you have truly impacted, but you should know that they do exist, and they are relying on you.

Volunteer Jonathan (far left) & Kim (far right) pose with fellow organizers from Chicago, while attend the 2018 InterPride World Conference.

Tip #11: Get involved with other LGBTQ+ Pride organizers.  This will give you a community that you can learn from, promote within, and share with.  It will also give you the much-needed opportunities to celebrate your successes and vent your frustrations.  We recommend joining the United States Association of Prides (USAP) (in the United States) & InterPride (worldwide).  Both groups are covered by the same membership cost that is based on your income from the prior year.   For most small prides, the cost is less than $50 per year (even less if you register early).  Informally, there are some Facebook groups of pride organizers that you can join without being a member of any group (InterPride Region 4 & USAP Region 4, Pride Organizations of Indiana, etc.).    As a Pride in Indiana, we also have monthly meetings with Midwest LGBTQ+ Pride organizers and quarterly meetings with Hoosier LGBTQ+ Pride organizers.  Indiana-based Pride organizers also have an agreement with one another to provide each other free space at events – this can be a great opportunity for you to begin promoting your Pride among friendly allies.  Don’t forget to offer this complimentary benefit to other Prides that want to attend your event.  The more the merrier!

Thanks to our passionate volunteers & supportive community, Spencer Pride was able to open its LGBTQ+ community center in 2017. The Spencer Pride commUnity center will celebrate its 5th anniversary in September 2021.

Tip #12: Never stop investing in your volunteers.  Volunteers are, by far, your most important resource.  Without them, you cannot do your work.   With them, the sky is the limit as to what you can accomplish.   Do not take them for granted.  Take time to properly train them and teach them your organization’s values (once you’ve established them).  Nourish your volunteer relationships and you will find that you will build a local “Pride family” that will move mountains to help your Pride succeed.

We hope that this list will help you make your vision for a local Pride into a reality.  If you have your own suggestions to add to our list, please send them to Jonathan@SpencerPride.org for inclusion in a follow-up web post at a later date.    For more information about Spencer Pride, including what we are doing to continue cultivating a community of compassion and celebration for ALL people, please visit www.SpencerPride.org.

Happy Pride!