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Spencer Pride Festival returns after COVID cancelation, festival ordinance

Spencer Pride Festival 2021

(Mitch Legan, WTIU/WFIU News)

Downtown Spencer was once again full of music, food and visitors for the 14th Spencer Pride Festival on Saturday. The annual event was canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kourtney Warren of Brazil, Indiana came out to her parents as a member of the LGBTQ+ community around the same time the pandemic hit the U.S. Spencer Pride was the first pride event she had ever attended. She went with her fiancé, Kyzaya.

“Growing up I battled a lot of very dark feelings because of growing up in a Christian household and being gay,” Warren said. “It's hard. And being able to be myself and be open is pretty awesome.”

The last time the Pride Festival was held was June 2019.

That fall, the Owen County Commissioners – including current commissioner Gary Burton – passed an ordinance that many residents saw as an attempt to stop the annual Pride Festival from being held downtown. It prohibits anyone from using the county courthouse for a special event.

The Spencer population nearly tripled Saturday – an estimated 6,500 people attended the festival. Before the pandemic, Spencer Pride was often one of the biggest days of the year for many local businesses.

“It's a big weekend,” said Jaime Sweany, owner of the Juniper Art Gallery. “And it's so thrilling just to see so many people, diverse backgrounds here in downtown Spencer. It's very exciting.”

Because of the ordinance, this year’s Pride Fest was held in the streets surrounding the courthouse; the courthouse lawn became “Pride Park” for the day.

“Oh, we're staying in the streets (going forward),” said Spencer Pride president Jonathan Balash. “I'm really proud of the community's turnout and I'm really proud of our volunteers for the hard work that they've done. It's been two years in the making.”

Balash said it was especially important to hold the event in person after it went virtual last year.

42 percent of LGBTQ+ youth considered suicide last year during the pandemic, according to a report from the Trevor Project, an organization that focuses on preventing suicide among LGBTQ+ youth.

This story has been updated.

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