What you can expect from Muncie’s First Pride this September.
The hot summer breeze moves by carelessly. A figure struts by in a tutu, they are followed by legs clad with leather pants — vivid colors fly in every direction. The music in the distance bops as people smile and laugh. It feels safe and welcome under the June sun.
For Brooklyn Arizmendi, the Indianapolis Pride Festival feels like home.
“…When we’re embarking on almost entering the pride festival I get so excited. There are people kind of just showing off whatever identity they have and how proud of it they are. Everywhere. Everyone. I feel like it’s such a safe space where you can be yourself and do whatever, and make friends and meet new people and create connections,” says Brooklyn.
Brooklyn also said that she feels so excited about pride because it makes her feel good about her identity; sometimes, she says, it’s hard to know if there is a place for queer people in this world.
Brooklyn says she has attended the state’s largest celebration of pride in Indianapolis for years and has even gone as far as Chicago to attend the festival there. Next year, though, she won’t have to travel far at all. The unapologetic fun and acceptance will be right here in Muncie’s back yard. For the first time, the Muncie Pride Festival will be held at Canan Commons on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020.
Brooklyn is active in the Muncie LGBTQ+ community through Spectrum, Ball State’s gender, sexual, and romantic minority (GSRM) advocacy group, where she was the president for three years. She has also worked at Muncie’s most delicious safe space, Queer Chocolatier. Through her frequent activity within the community, she caught wind of Muncie Pride planning and has been excited ever since.
“Muncie Pride is just a group of people that started this from the ground up. And there are all sorts of different people, parents, LGBTQ+ people, advocates, etc. that wanted it and had a vision for the Muncie Community and wanted to create something beautiful,” she says. “So they’re putting a lot of hard work into it and I really respect it. And it’s been cool to be able to work with people in the community and create something with them that really made me feel a part of the community”
This spring, after graduating, Brooklyn has turned over her presidency in Spectrum to someone new. Though she is embarking on a new chapter after college, her experience with the LGBTQ+ community in Muncie will not be forgotten. She said this community is resilient, diverse, and ready for Pride.
SteVen Knipp, the head of Muncie Pride, says it has taken about 10 years for the idea of Muncie Pride to finally come true.
Knipp says that, previously, negative reactions from the community and a lack of leadership led to the event fizzling out. He also says that with many other small communities like Richmond having successful Pride festivals, Muncie’s time is now.
“I feel like it’s just time for this event. Everywhere I go, I talk to people about what we’re doing to try to gain support. Everywhere. Every business, every person I talked to is ready to jump on board, get behind us, and start helping us toward our goal on this thing, which is amazing…“ he said. “…So I just feel like Muncie is ready for Pride. I feel like we’re a little overdue. There are a lot of smaller communities in the area that are doing this and so it just doesn’t make sense for us not to.”
Muncie and other smaller towns have gained a reputation as unaccepting places, which makes it hard to find or look for acceptance.
Though Muncie is a small, red community, the pockets of acceptance within are what matter most to the local LGBTQ+ community. And it’s unexpected, but this small town has a thriving, flourishing, and growing LGBTQ+ community. Muncie OUTreach, Spectrum, and other affirming organizations have created safe spaces in recent years, but the community has been ready for something more; that’s why pride has come about.
Laura Janney, the founder of Muncie OUTreach, Delaware County’s only LGBTQ+ youth group, said that she is excited for pride as well. Janney founded outreach after noticing Muncie’s need for LGBTQ+ safe spaces.
“Well, you know, we’re in the middle of the Bible Belt, in a highly-republican Trump country. So we get a lot of youth from more rural areas who don’t know anybody that’s not straight, white, and Christian, so they feel isolated and they feel lonely. So finding community and people like them makes them less isolated and lonely,” Janney says. “And Indiana’s attempted suicide rate is no. 1 in the nation right now. And I think LGBTQ+ has a higher percentage of attempts than straight people. So I think this really helps when you find community.”
Janney says she is excited to see the vision she had for OUTreach seven years ago expand beyond her organization. She says that while OUTreach is there, they are more quiet and a public pride festival will really run home the idea of LGBTQ+ safe spaces in the community.
“Oh, it’s exciting. I feel like we have just grown so much. We started out with zero kids, and then we had just a few kids and we had no connections and resources,” she says. “And now we have so many resources right here in town, and so many people who are affirming and so many businesses that are affirming. So bringing all of that together to create Pride is going to be really good.”
Though there are many positive reactions from the community, there are others who may feel lukewarm about the event. Markie Oliver, who describes herself as a community advocate, says she is glad that Pride is happening for those who need it, but she is lucky enough to have always been supported wherever she went, so she does not feel the same need for such an event.
“There are other people my age who, regardless of when they came out, It was something that was important to them,” she says. “But for me, it hasn’t been that. I guess I got into those little cracks, and everything was just ‘Okay, good,’ And we move along and we do our thing. And I’ve been lucky, wherever I go, to be supported.”
Oliver also says that though pride may not be her scene, it is still needed in the community because there is a long history of corruption in Muncie. She also says that with a new, Republican mayor who is not necessarily on board with the idea of Pride or providing funding for it, it is important to continue to build community.
Muncie Pride began planning more than two years before the event would even come to fruition. Knipp says that about seven committees along with countless grant applications and city registrations will all be worth it.
“…What makes this whole event worth it is just to send the message to today’s youth, the queer youth in the Muncie community, and in the surrounding communities that are neighboring us, as well as the visiting college community is that Muncie is a safe and welcoming space and we’ve had to fight years to be here and for our space to be here,” Knipp says. “
The festival will feature many different booths and entertainers on the main stage of the venue. Knipp says that they are making it as accessible as possible by providing services like companions for those who are blind, sign language interpreters for those who are deaf, and a section of the festival away from loud noises for those who are on the autism spectrum and could be sensitive to loud sounds. He also said that committees are looking into getting special mats for the event so it will be wheelchair accessible.
Overall, the much-awaited festival is meant to bring every hue of love and acceptance to the community along with fun and carefree entertainment and advocacy resources. OUTreach will have a booth there and Janney says that her organization is encouraging the youth to participate in different activities like slam poetry and a potential “So you think you can Drag?” competition where participants would dress others up and do their makeup in the fashion of drag queens.
Brooklyn, Knipp, and Janney all say that Pride is for everyone. Pride is for all races, all religions, all identities, and all of the community. Knipp says that this event is specifically focusing on how to create a family safe space.
So get ready, in Sept. 2020 Canan Commons and the Muncie LGBTQ+ community will be there to say “Welcome home.”