Having seen Pride celebrations throughout the month of June, which is officially Pride month, it’s easy to see that the marches and festivals are no longer attracting only members of the LGBT community and a small handful of supporters. Today’s Pride celebrations are growing and increasingly mainstream. The very fact that Fort Wayne’s Pride Fest falls in July is because the larger space needed was only available in the latter part of July, making the final weekend of the month the time when all can gather at Headwaters Park for an event which continues to grow and evolve. In fact, Pride Fest will inhabit even more of Headwaters than in years past.
“There will be some new additions this year,” said Nikki Fultz, director of Fort Wayne Pride. “We’re expanding our space so we can have more vendors and a larger kids’ area. We’ll be fencing in some of the area near the fountain, and we’ll have our workshop tent over there. We’re hoping that will help people to hear what’s going on in the workshops because in years past the music made it hard. And this year we have a lot of topics which are important to the community.”
Those topics include Queer Religion with Rev. Misty-Dawn Shelly at noon, Queer Healthy Relationships and the Science with Dr. Jenny Seiss at 1 p.m., Advocacy 101 with Dana Black at 2 p.m., PrEP 101 with Timothy Price at 3 p.m., Non-Binary Town Hall with GenderNexus at 4 p.m., and Meditation with Insight Meditation Fort Wayne at 5 p.m. There will also be plenty of fun for kids of all ages, promises Fultz.
“Everything in our KidSpace is still free, and this year we’ll have three more inflatables than we’ve had in the past,” she said. “We’ll also have several character meet-and-greet opportunities with Elsa from Frozen, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, and Black Panther as well as a magic show. We’re also going to have more vendors this year, and the corn hole tournament will return this year along with a volleyball area.”
Expanding programming is an example of how much Pride Fest has grown in recent years.
“We saw a big spike about 10 years ago, in part because of the growth of social media and Facebook around that time,” Fultz said. “More and more people started to hear about it, and as it reached more people, there’s been more acceptance for the LGBT community. We saw a large increase in attendance with steady growth ever since. The march particularly has grown a lot, and we’ve seen a broader attendance not only among the LGBT community but also a big increase in straight allies attending.”
The one issue that does sometimes affect attendance – one that comes from being held on July 27-28 – is the weather, but Fultz said that has just been a fact of life.
“It’s pretty certain that the weather is going to be hot, but we have a devoted audience. Whether it’s pouring down rain or we’re dealing with heat, we’re lucky to have people who will come regardless of that.”
In fact, that growth was the reason for the change of venue and date in 2005. But Fultz thinks that Fort Wayne’s Pride Fest has benefited from that shift and points out that national and international Pride events take place all year round.
“The nice thing for us is that people who attend Pride in Chicago or Indianapolis can still come to our event without having any conflict. So I think it’s really helped overall.”
To understand the growth of the event, last year’s overall attendance reached 13,000 while involvement in the march, which begins at 11:15 a.m. on Saturday, July 28, drew 3,000 participants in its sixth year.
Always popular is the array of top-end musical acts. One of the featured acts this year is Doug Strahm, backed by some of the top musicians in the country. He’ll be performing songs from his newly released album, Souvenirs, a work of art recorded locally at Sweetwater Studios and internationally at Abbey Road.
This year, area favorites like Goodnight Gracie and Jess Thrower will perform as well as someone who has been a favorite at the event since the beginning.
“Having played Pride Fest since the very first event – many, many years ago – it’s been an honor for me to continue to be a part of this wonderful festival,” said Jen Fisher, formerly of Sugar Shot. “It continues to be one of my favorite events to perform at, and I am looking forward to introducing my new band, Jen & the Foggy Creek Band, this year.”
The performances culminate in the highlight of each Pride Fest, the drag show from 9:30 p.m. until midnight.