More than two decades after the first Fort Wayne Pride festival, organizers are hoping to welcome a record number of people to this year’s event.
“The first festival had less than 100 people there,” said Executive Director Nikki Fultz. “In 2005 we moved to Headwaters Park East, which is where we are now. This year we’re expecting about 15,000.”
All About Inclusion
“I’d say in the last seven or eight years is when we’ve really had a big push,” she said. “That was when social media started being a thing. That helped to reach out with marketing, and then as social acceptance of the LGBTQ community has come along, we’ve had more financial support with sponsors, more community support with straight allies, and we’ve been able to have this festival grow significantly.”
The two-day festival takes place on July 26 and 27 and features a variety of activities aimed not just at celebrating the LGBTQ community, but also focused on awareness.
Fultz, who’s been involved with Fort Wayne Pride for 19 years, said the organization is all about inclusion.
“My biggest belief in creating acceptance is education and visibility,” Fultz said.
“The idea behind Fort Wayne Pride is we provide a place for people to be able to be themselves, be who they are, to feel comfortable and free from judgement. For some people that’s the only weekend of the year where they can do that. They can come out and be who they are and not feel like they’re watching over their shoulder.
“Besides giving that place for people, it helps provide a place for people who don’t know LGBTQ people or don’t realize they know LGBTQ people.”
a Party and a Parade
The kickoff party begins Friday at 7 p.m. and features local bands, a DJ, a beer tent, vendors, and food plaza.
Saturday morning’s Pride March is the highlight for many. It starts at Headwaters East at 11:15 and winds through downtown before ending back at the park at noon, when the live music starts.
All afternoon, local acts from Churubusco, Warsaw, and Wabash will take the stage, along with musicians from Colorado and even Vietnam. Singer Trey Pearson, who once fronted the Christian rock band Everyday Sunday, will perform at 7:30 p.m.
During the day, as many as 130 vendors will make up a vendor market. Kids can enjoy a special area that will include inflatables, games with prizes, a magic show, and character meet and greets. There will also be workshops with different educational topics, where an expert will present information followed by a Q and A.
The big finale is the drag show that starts at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Admission to the festival is $5 a day for adults; kids 12 and under are free. All ages are welcome, but children 5 and under are not permitted past 8:00 p.m. on Saturday because of the large crowds.
Time to Be Themselves
Fultz and her team of volunteers look forward to what’s become an annual celebration not just for members of the LGBTQ community but for others, too.
“When we started, the Klan showed up unexpectedly and were protesting,” she recalled. “They had a rally down at the courthouse and then ended up showing up at our festival. I remember how we felt so alone and so scared. Now I think about how different it’s become. There’s not the fear that there used to be.
“Now there are a lot of people who just stumble upon the festival, come in, and they end up having a great time and say, ‘I’m going to be back.’ It’s been humbling to see something that you put a lot of effort into and watch it grow and be able to hear people who come up to you almost in tears. This is their time to be themselves and this is something they look forward to all year. It’s a great thing to be able to be a part of.”
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