COLUMBUS, Ind. (AP) — An Indiana high school student is organizing what’s believed to be the first gay pride festival in Vice President Mike Pence’s hometown.
Erin Bailey said she proposed the Columbus festival last year for her senior project at Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School. The April 14 event will feature bands, vendors and a drag queen competition.
“I wanted to do something that was really big,” she said. “I thought ‘What is not happening in Columbus, what do we not have here?'”
The festival may be the first of its kind in the city, said Jill Tasker, president of Pride Alliance of Columbus Indiana and Bailey’s mentor for the project.
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“I think what Erin has done has really lit a fire under a lot of people in this town and across the country,” Tasker said.
Bailey, 18, identifies as bisexual and said she hopes the event will illustrate that the small, conservative community is open to diverse groups.
“So just kind of showing the nation even though Mike Pence is from here and he’s anti-LGBT it doesn’t mean that us in the community are,” Bailey said.
Pence, a conservative Christian and Indiana’s former governor, signed a 2015 religious protections law creating a legal defense for businesses that objected to serving the LGBTQ community. The law provoked a national backlash and led to boycott threats, prompting lawmakers to make changes to the law.
Pence applauded Bailey’s activism and engagement in the civic process, said Alyssa Farah, the vice president’s spokeswoman.
“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.
Mayor Jim Lienhoop also expressed support for the event, saying Columbus “is proud to be home to persons of all backgrounds, including different viewpoints, faiths, races, and sexual orientation, who bring with them a rich culture and diversity that benefits us all.”