Spencer Pride will not host its annual festival for the first time in 14 years because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, the group will be expanding its Pride Week activities that would have led up to the festival. Spencer Pride’s “Pride Week” is from Oct. 12 to 18 this year.
“We just don't have enough information or confidence that tells us that we're going to be in a better position from a pandemic perspective,” Spencer Pride President Jonathan Balash said. “And so we don't want to worsen the circumstances by facilitating a large gathering of people. And that's our main concern, really, is – we don't want to contribute negatively to the health of our community.”
Balash wrote in a news release the decision to cancel the annual Pride Festival was made in consultation with the Owen County Health Department.
Spencer Pride postponed the festival back in April, saying there was too much uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus to go ahead with it. Balash says not much has changed.
“If you talk to anyone about plans they have in the next period of time that’s more than three or four weeks out, you kind of get a pause because people are really hesitant right now to the plan too much out in the future,” Balash said.
Details aren’t yet available, but the expanded festivities will include “virtual and (limited capacity) in-person events aimed to educate the public, celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, and continue our work to develop long-term partnerships and support our mission,” according to the news release.
Balash said the festival’s leadership council is planning the festivities, which could include a virtual marketplace for vendors who rely on the festival, bringing food trucks into Spencer throughout the week, or even a limited capacity event at the Tivoli Theatre centered on LGBTQ education.
Balash said the decision to cancel this year’s festival was difficult considering the effort it took for Spencer Pride to just be in the position to host a festival this year.
“At the same time, there's been a lot of positives that've come out of the past year,” he said “And that saga with the county commissioners over the special events ordinance, I mean, we saw a tremendous amount of public outpouring of support. Passionate supporters that 13 years’ worth of festival feedback surveys hadn't elicited.”
Last fall, Owen County’s Board of Commissioners tried to keep Spencer Pride from having its annual Pride Fest by approving a county ordinance that prohibits anyone from accessing the courthouse for a festival or special event. The move led to intense backlash from many county residents, and two of the commissioners – President Jeff Brothers and Steve Williamson – are not seeking re-election.
With a population of about 2,200, Spencer is the smallest town in the United States with a designated LGBTQ center – the Spencer Pride CommUnity Center.
Despite the restrictions, Balash and Spencer Pride worked with local businesses and town officials to keep the event in downtown Spencer. The county Chamber of Commerce even spearheaded a campaign to raise $25,000 for public restrooms in Spencer, and received enough donations to fund the project in 20 days.
“We're now going to pivot and use all of our anger and frustration that we feel about having to cancel our in-person festival, and we're going to turn that into positive energy,” Balash said. “And we're gonna fuel our passion with that and we're going to make an awesome Pride Week for 2020.”
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