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A high school senior has successfully planned a Gay Pride festival in Columbus, Ind., the hometown of anti-gay Vice President Mike Pence.
The festival, planned for April 14, will feature activities like drag performances, face painting, and rainbow S’mores on a stick, reports The Indianapolis Star. But Erin Bailey, the bisexual student who is the chief organizer of the Pride, hopes that the festival will send a message that Columbus is inclusive and welcoming for members of the LGBTQ community.
“Most people would think that all of us here are also anti-LGBT,” Bailey says, referring to the vice president’s political record. “But there are plenty of us who very much support the LGBT community and are members of the community.”
The festival will be the first in the history of the small city of approximately 46,000. Columbus previously added LGBTQ protections to its city ordinances in 2015, after then-Governor Pence signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act that would have allowed individuals or business to use religious beliefs as justification for refusing service to LGBTQ people.
Under public pressure and a backlash from the state’s business community, Pence eventually accepted changes to the law to clarify that it was not intended to allow discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
The city also previously became the center of debate after Cummins, Inc., the city’s largest employers, decided to offer health insurance and other benefits to same-sex partners of employees. As such, the company has pushed for a statewide nondiscrimination law protecting LGBTQ people, arguing that passing such a law will create a friendlier environment that will be more attractive to businesses.
Unfortunately, for many residents, the city is tied heavily to Pence, who is best known for his anti-LGBTQ advocacy during his time in Congress, including his push for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages and his opposition to bills protecting LGBTQ people from employment discrimination and adding hate crime protections for LGBTQ victims to federal law.
Samantha Aulick, a lesbian who co-owns a catering company with her wife and is making the rainbow S’mores for the festival, says outsiders often mention Pence when she and her wife tell people where they’re from.
“They’re like, ‘Oh, that’s where Mike Pence is from,” says Aulick. “Yeah, but it’s not all like that.”
Bailey, who organized the festival for her senior class project, says she’d be organizing it, even if Pence weren’t from Columbus. “But it’s kind of a plus that it’s his hometown,” she adds.
Vice Presidential spokeswoman Alyssa Farah told the Star that Pence “commends Erin Bailey for her activism and engagement in the civic process” and applauds her initiative.
“As a proud Hoosier and Columbus native, he’s heartened to see young people from his hometown getting involved in the political process,” Farah said in a statement.
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