SPENCER, IN – For six years, the Spencer Pride Festival has served as a refreshing rural surprise in the heart of the Midwest. In a town of 2500 people that rests deep within the “Bible Belt,’ a relatively small group of organizers once again hosted an LGBTQI pride event that proved quite popular for summer festival-goers throughout Indiana. For those unfamiliar with the abbreviation, LGBTQI stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex. This year’s event took place on Saturday, June 2. For the fifth year in a row, the event took place on the lawn of the Owen County Courthouse in Spencer’s downtown square. The festival organizers estimate that approximately 1150 people attended the event, which was quite a remarkable number especially considering that the event competed with the local graduation ceremony at Owen Valley Community High School. Spencer Pride is the second largest event that takes place in downtown Spencer each year.
The event advertised a large festival marketplace, all-day live entertainment, and a variety of activities for individuals of all ages. In addition to the 67 vendors, six entertainment acts, and large group of festival-goers, one of the current candidates for Indiana Governor was also present at the event. Indiana Libertarian Gubernatorial Candidate and Survivor contestant Rupert Boneham was pleased to staff a booth at this year’s event in support of Spencer Pride.
Spencer Pride is a family-friendly event and organizers ensured plenty of entertaining options for individuals of all ages. From the free bounce house to face-painting, bubble-blowing, and plenty of educational opportunities, youth were visibly welcome and in attendance at this year’s event. In addition to the above activities, adults participated in the first-ever Spencer Pride sumo wrestling challenges as well as a variety of raffles and drawings.
First-time Spencer Pride Festival-goers had a lot to say about their experience at the 2012 event. “I was so impressed at the community’s support of the festival,” said one such festival-goer.
Another festival-goer was even clearer with her description of what she saw as a very fun and welcoming festival: “It’s a positive representation of the gay and lesbian community that stands in contrast to what many people hear from their preachers on Sunday morning.”
For some attendees, it was their first LGBTQI pride event altogether. “It was my first pride event ever, and I walked away with a new awareness of the gay community.” Said a 2012 pride festival newcomer. “Since the festival, I’ve found myself questioning my previously held beliefs and looking at the community in a different way.”
Did the festival provide value to the local community? Some festival-goers were anonymously asked for their thoughts on the matter. “Absolutely,” said one. “The feeling of being on a little island of queerness against the backdrop of those classic ‘southern Indiana town square’ buildings just gave me a lot of hope for rural LGBTQI folk. [It was] very empowering.” “I feel the Spencer Pride provides, among other things, an important message for everyone in our community,” said another festival-goer and local resident. “The equal love and acceptance shown at this festival is something I want my kids to see and grow up around.”
“Again, as last year, I enjoyed [the Spencer Pride Festival] very much,” said Jerry Bailey. “I camped at McCormick’s Creek and was able to see more of the Spencer community over a couple days. I really like the small town atmosphere and how friendly all that were involved with the event were. I plan to return every year!”
A handful of protestors attended the event this year and remained at safe distance from the crowd thanks to the efforts of the Owen County Sheriff’s deputies and the Spencer Police Department. The protestors remained for less than an hour and remained unnoticed by most of the festival attendees and vendors. It was the first year that the event had been attended by protestors, which was seen as a positive by Spencer Pride Inc. president Jonathan A. Balash.
“Once you reach the point where individuals attend the event in protest, you know that you’ve begun having an impact on the community,” Balash said. “That means that we have become influential enough that it scares some of the local perpetuators of intolerance.”
The entertainers who performed at this year’s event included the Quarryland Men’s Chorus, Pride of Indy Color Guard, BOLD, Dan Wyatt, the Hudsucker Brigade, and drag performances hosted by Vicci Laine. Uncle Elizabeth’s nightclub, which is based in Bloomington, provided deejay music throughout the afternoon. Sheryl Daniels emceed the entertainment and was popular among the crowd with her good humor and energetic attitude.
“Spencer Pride is a great event,” said Edward Fox, festival-goer and volunteer for INTRAA. “Fun and worthwhile.”“I love that your event isn’t as flamboyant as most, but has rather a more ordinary representation of what most gays are like…ordinary people!” said a festival-goer proud to share his pleasure with the 2012 event.
Another attendee found the diversity of the festival to be quite impressive. “I think that SPF [the Spencer Pride Festival] is magical in its ability to combine leather and drag with churches and animal rescues,” the elderly gentleman stated. The Spencer Pride Festival “represents the outlaw aspects of the community in a common space with the quotidian aspects of GLBT life.”
In order to give back to the local community, Spencer Pride organizers collected a variety of donations for a variety of different local causes at this year’s event. Festival-goers brought non-perishable food items, new or used books, and pet food/supplies. Spencer Pride volunteers distributed the food items to the Spencer Presbyterian Church’s food pantry. Books were distributed to the Owen Valley Library as well as the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington who will be donating theirs to the Pages for Prisoners project. Pet food was donated to a local community organization that will be dispersing the items into the homes of low income pet owners.
“We are so grateful for all of the community support that we have received over the years, and we were pleased to give back to the local community by organizing these donations,” said Judi Epp, local retiree and volunteer for Spencer Pride, Inc. Epp is the secretary of the organization and spends much of her free time promoting the event and garnering community participation and financial support for the Spencer Pride Festival.The Spencer Pride Festival is organized by local not-for-profit Spencer Pride, Inc., which is a 501(c)(3) public charity. The 2012 Spencer Pride Festival was sponsored by Positive Link (a program of Indiana University Health), White River Valley PFLAG, The WORD, bloomingOUT, VisitGayBloomington.com, Owen County State Bank, Uncle Elizabeth’s, and Safe Space Life Coaching. Other sponsors included the Community AIDS Action Group of South Central Indiana, Be Cool Clothing Company, GayIndy.com, and many, many more local organizations and individuals. The 2013 Spencer Pride Festival will take place on Saturday, June 1st.