The Early Years of Pride….
LGBT Pride as we know it today did not exist in Indiana. There were no safe gay bars or places for the LGBT community in Indianapolis. In 1981, the first Pride event was a dinner at the now gone, Essex House Hotel where many of the attendees wore masks upon entering the hotel so as not to be seen. Justice, Inc., a local social services organization, was one of the early Pride organizers holding a variety of indoor banquets, brunches and events through the mid-1980s. Many of these events featured out-of-town guest speakers and were held at the Essex, the Atkinson (where the Hyatt is today), the Hilton on The Circle (now the downtown Sheraton Hotel), and Riley’s Pub, 650 N. Alabama where Pride was held in 1987. In 1982, another community event began. The Greater Indianapolis Gay Business Association (GIGBA) hosted a Labor Day Picnic in Westlake Park. Over 500 people attended the first picnic making it the largest gay event ever held in Indianapolis. In 1983, nearly 1,000 people attended and these events continued to grow until they were ended in the early 1990s. Though never an “official” Pride event, these picnics did serve as important annual celebrations for the LGBT community and its allies to gather and build relationships. These gatherings would foster the growth of Pride.
Pride “Comes Out of the Closet”
Justice Inc. planned something bigger for Pride on June 26th, 1988, when they organized a festival at the Indianapolis Sports Center. This marked the first time a LGBT event was hosted in a civic facility. This brought Pride out of the hidden closet and into the public domain of Indianapolis and this is the anniversary we celebrate this year. Only a 175 people attended this event, which included a yard sale, church services and a roller skating party. 1989, the Justice Inc. Pride Festival returned to Westlake Park with a picnic and entertainment attended by over 1000 people.
After 10 years of Pride events in Indianapolis, Justice Inc. held the first Celebration on Monument Circle in 1990, extending Pride’s invitation as a more public event and less of private function. 3000 attended this historic festival, making it the largest public gay event in Indiana at the time. Pride was held on the Circle again in 1991 and then moved to University Park in 1992, 1993 and 1994.
The Birth of Indy Pride, Inc.
In 1995, Indy Pride, Inc. was established as an independent organization governing the annual event. This year Pride embraced major changes especially in moving the event to the Canal in the fall. This first Pride was unsuccessful– low attendance, a narrow canal separating the sides, an overspent budget and a controversial admission fee for some events resulted in over $10,000 in debt and the future of Pride appeared washed away.
Two different organizations, The Word and Justice, Inc., hosted the traditional event at University Park/Veterans Plaza with all proceeds going to Justice, Inc. A newly re-organized Indy Pride Inc., led by Linda Batchelor-Ballew, held a second event in the fall on Talbott Street. Between 1996 and 1999 both Pride events co-existed and worked together. Indy Pride paid back its debt while The Word paid for the June events and donated the profits to Justice, Inc.
Indy Pride Inc. Flourishes
In 1997, Indy Pride Inc., was approved as a tax-exempt organization and established its first office in Fountain Square. Fully recovered from its large debt, they began negotiations in 1999 with Justice Inc. to combine events. During this period, Indy Pride Inc. began an annual scholarship program and the Community Thanksgiving Dinner. During the period 2001-2003, under the leadership of Ivan Howard more and more events were combined and the Indy Pride, Inc., event was moved to Mass Avenue as a Street Fayre. During this period, a picnic was added which was held the Sunday after the Street Fayre at Eagle Creek Park.
In 2003, Indy Pride under Gary Brackett’s leadership, ended the Street Fayre on Mass Avenue and combined the two Pride events into one “new” festival at University Park in mid-June. Attendance grew from 6,000 people in 2002 to 10,000 in 2003. In 2004, the Indy Pride Inc. decided that going forward, the Pride Festival would be celebrated on the second Saturday of June. 2005 saw the introduction of the first parade which featured a float, an antique truck, a few drag queens, some antique cars, and several walking groups. The entire parade lasted 15 minutes. It all began at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and College, proceeding down to Vermont Street where it ended at the Festival in University Park. The Festival continued to prosper in University Park until 2009, where attendance was estimated at 45,000 people and 170 vendor booths.
In 2010, the Indy Pride Board of Directors made the tough decision to move the Festival two blocks north to the American Legion Mall, which has nearly twice the space of University Park. This was also the year that the festival was rebranded to Circle City IN Pride, in an effort to trademark the Festival beyond the “Indy Pride” name. The Circle City IN Pride Festival was an amazing success with over 55,000 people and 190 vendor booths. The parade was also rechristened the Cadillac Barbie Pride Parade in 2011, to honor the Indy Pride Bag Lady alter ego of Gary Brackett, the President of Indy Pride who founded the very first parade. In 2011, the Festival expanded even further to incorporate Veteran’s Memorial Plaza to the south of the American Legion Mall.
The Future and Beyond
As of 2012, the Circle City IN Pride Festival now stretches further than three city blocks, with more than 300 vendors, and over 80,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and heterosexual people in attendance. An addition of a second stage was one of many changes along with designated family friendly entertainment areas reflecting the diversity the festival embraces. The parade has also continued to grow, now lasting over two hours, it is one of the largest parades in both number of floats and attendance, in the city. The festival consists of several attractions for the community, both gay and non-gay, to browse and watch. There are several booths sponsored by local LGBT groups catering to the community as a whole, as well as special interest groups. Other booths throughout the park are sponsored by local businesses that support the LGBT community. Surrounding the park, food vendors and other businesses also have displays set up to show support and market to the community. The centerpiece of the event is the main stage that is erected to overlook the event. Here local and national talents perform, providing entertainment for the crowd. Performances include the Pride of Indy Band, singers, national recording artists, drag performances, DJs and speeches. Performances can range from pure entertainment, such as RuPaul who performed at the close of the festival in 2006 and Kat DeLuna who performed in 2009, to informational speeches, such as that from Candace Gingrich, who in 2007, gave a speech for the Human Rights Campaign on same-sex marriage issues.
In 25 years since Pride first “came out of the closet.” The exposure has created a massive change in the society of the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana. The battle is not won until everyone is equal but the Circle City IN Pride fest is a symbol of a growing acceptance in our culture today.