When the Fort Wayne Pride festival debuted modestly in Freimann Square in the mid 90s, the Summit City was not widely perceived as a place where acceptance of LGBT Hoosiers was the norm.
Organizers and participants were filled with trepidation about how the festival would be received.
Almost two decades later, Fort Wayne Pride has grown almost bigger than its mission. It has joined the pantheon of beloved Fort Wayne festivals and has become as essential to many residents' summertime revels as Germanfest and Greek Fest, to name just two.
"That's something we have always tried to push for," said Nikki Fultz, director of Fort Wayne Pride. "We have always tried to include straight allies. Obviously, this is an LGBT Pride Festival, but it's become more of a celebration of diversity in general. Not just diversity of sexuality and gender, but diversity overall."
The festival drew 12,000 attendees to Headwaters Park East last year, and Fultz hopes to see 15,000 this year.
Fort Wayne Pride 2016 happens July 22 and 23 at Headwaters Park East. New festival features include a Friday night headliner.
"We were trying to find a way to increase our Friday night attendance," Fultz said, "because, on Saturday night, we're pretty much at capacity or close to capacity. So we're hoping to match that on Friday night by putting in something new and different."
Filling the need for something new and different this year will be singer, songwriter and rapper Dev, known for her work with the hip-hop duo, The Cataracs, and for her single, "In the Dark." Local acts Night to Remember and D.j. Trend will also perform on Friday.
The Saturday lineup features CODEX, Jon (Durnell) and Missy (Burgess), Finding Friday, Dasan Valentine, Alise King, SIR, Sum Morz and DJ Tab, followed by Fort Wayne's Finest Drag Show.
Fultz said there will be a new sound system this year and a video screen on which attendees can watch everything worth watching, regardless of their place in the pavilion.
Taking a cue from the Three Rivers Festival, Fort Wayne Pride will transform part of an adjacent parking lot into a food corridor of sorts. You might even go so far as to describe it as a food aisle or a food avenue. Just don't call it anything that would infringe on the TRF brand.
"We will have pretty much every kind of festival food and drink that people could want," Fultz said. "We will have trucks and trailers, not just from around here, but from all over the region."
Returning components include a vendor market, a beer tent, workshops, a cornhole tournament, a KidSpace, a dance party, a drag show and music all day on Saturday.
In light of the mass nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fultz said, the Fort Wayne Police Department is providing extra security at many festivals this summer, including Fort Wayne Pride.
Fort Wayne Pride has always offered a high level of security, she said.
"I always knew there was potential for something like that to happen," she said. "I mean, not on that scale, but I have always been aware that somebody can come into any public space and do something like that. So whenever you're in charge of people's safety, you have to keep that in mind. We've always had city police and security. We have bag searches and security cameras."
Fultz said some younger people may not realize the extent to which the LGBT community has always faced threats of violence.
"People get scared, especially young people," she said. "My analogy is, if I'm a teacher and there have been a lot of school shootings, that doesn't mean I'm not going to go to work. I'd expect students to come to school. That, unfortunately, is the world we live in.
"We can try to be as safe as possible," Fultz said, "but we can't let that fear overtake our lives."
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