Vice President Mike Pence might not have recognized his hometown of Columbus, Indiana yesterday. The town was transformed by its first-ever Gay Pride Parade, which attracted a larger than expected crowd of over 2,000 attendees despite threatening weather forecasts, according to the Indianapolis Star.
The parade in the socially conservative town where the notoriously homophobic Vice President was born and raised drew a considerably larger number of participants than the protests held a few years ago opposing the decision by a large local company, Cummins Inc., to extend health insurance and other benefits to employees’ same-sex partners.
The unlikely celebration of LGBTQ rights and lifestyle in the heart of Indiana began as a class project by Erin Bailey, a high school senior at Columbus Signature Academy, and grew way beyond her expectations.
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“It’s crazy. It’s awesome,” said Bailey, who was forced to double her request to the town for space to hold the Columbus Pride Festival after public response to the event exploded. In the end, the festival’s 36 vendor booths and the entertainment stage featuring a “high-octane drag show” took up two blocks of the city.
Becky and Stacy Gipson, a married couple who attended the festival, were pleasantly surprised at the large turnout which they attributed to opposition to Vice President Pence’s discriminatory history toward the gay community.
“It was an opportunity to send a message to Pence,” Gipson said.
While the Vice President didn’t deign to make an appearance at the festival, one of the highlights of the celebration was the appearance of a Mike Pence impersonator, Glen Pannell, who traveled from New York to attend.
Dressed from the waist up in a suit and tie, Pannel’s white hair helped make the resemblance to Pence believable, but his tight-fitting shorts fit perfectly with his alias, Mike Hot-Pence.
Among the vendor booths were three sponsored by the types of religious organizations that the Vice President is so concerned would be offended by overt homosexuality. The representatives from the Unitarians, Disciples of Christ and Presbyterians were happy to be spreading a message of love and acceptance to the assembled multitudes.
“It makes me sad” that some churches don’t welcome LGBT people and that “when some people think of Christianity, they think of hate,” said Abby Smith, a member of First Presbyterian’s Open and Affirming Committee.
Smith was distributing rainbow-colored wristbands that said: “Love Abundantly.” Other vendors sold wares that also emphasized messages of inclusivity including T-shirts bearing slogans like “Free to be me” and “Beware the Lavender Menace.”
While the IndyStar reports that many of the festival’s attendees were teenaged friends and classmates of the organizer, several city officials joined the celebration as well.
Mary K. Ferdon, executive director of administration and community development for Columbus told the paper that “we’re very proud of Erin Bailey. This is what we do: We welcome everyone to Columbus.”
Vice President Pence’s words and actions to date have not indicated that he agrees with that statement, but the success of the city’s first Pride festival gives tremendous hope for the future.
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