Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Pride Fest makes triumphant return to Headwaters

No march this year, but big celebration goes on


Chris Hupe

Whatzup Features Writer

Published July 14, 2021

Pride is returning to Fort Wayne on Friday and Saturday, July 23 and 24.

The Fort Wayne Pride Fest is one of the most anticipated events of each summer, but was canceled last year, like so many others, due to the pandemic.

With an expanded footprint and some new activities, expectations for this year’s event have ramped up.

Bigger This Year

There will be some changes to how Pride Fest looks this year, most notably the expansion of the celebration to both sides of Headwaters Park. Traditionally held in the pavilion in Headwaters Park East, this year the festival spreads to both sides of Clinton Street with added events on the Headwaters West Terrace.

According to Nikki Fultz, director of Fort Wayne Pride, a second entertainment stage dubbed the Community Stage will be set up at Headwaters West. That stage will feature a variety of local singers, bands, performers, and dancers throughout the day on Saturday.

“This will provide festivalgoers with additional entertainment options, depending on what they enjoy,” Fultz said.

The festival has expanded its vendor market this year by adding a Nonprofit Resource Fair to the west side, allowing an increase of vendors to 120. And the popular yard games will be offered throughout the festival once again with the addition of several other activities.

“We did some rounds of trivia throughout the day in 2019, which ended up being very popular,” Fultz said. “Of course, our drag show is the most popular event.”

The drag show will take place Saturday night with two dozen performances by current and former Fort Wayne Pride title holders.

Fultz said the expansion of the festival to include both sides of Headwaters Park had been planned pre-COVID-19, so they didn’t have to change a lot of the blueprint in order to ensure everyone’s safety regarding the lingering virus.

“There is plenty of space for people who may be worried about exposure or unvaccinated attendees,” she said.

Social distancing will be easy to maintain throughout the duration of the festival, and there will be sanitizing stations around the venues.

“Of course, anyone is welcome to wear a mask, which we are requesting for all unvaccinated attendees,” Fultz said.

March to Return in 2022

According to Fultz, the popular Pride March will not be taking place this year. Though this is normally a highlight of the festival, the ever-changing pandemic meant there simply wasn’t enough time to get the permits and closures needed to accommodate more than 5,000 people they were expecting this year.

But don’t fret. The Pride March is set to return in 2022.

“We all love the Pride March,” Fultz said. “I know there will be disappointed people. We knew we were going to be able to have a festival in some capacity this year, so it was easy to adapt it to our regular hours and programming.

“I hope that people will understand and be excited that we are having a festival. There are still many festivals, including several Pride festivals, that were canceled or only held virtually for 2021.”

Lots of Positive Change

Fultz reflected on the last couple of decades which have seen a lot of positive changes for the LGBTQ community.

When she began as Fort Wayne Pride director in 2008, she remembers many people who were fearful of being seen at the festival.

“We did not have the support of the city, media, or outside community like we do today,” she said. “Today, we have many more resources available to make the festival safe and accessible for everyone. Visibility has been key, allowing people who are not LGBTQ to get to know us and understand we are not a threat and are just living our lives.

“Events like Fort Wayne Pride have really helped move this along in our area,” Fultz said. “Technology has allowed people to be connected in ways that were not possible when we began, but people still need these in-person events to recharge and build a deeper sense of community. Things are definitely not perfect, but they are significantly better.”

The Fort Wayne Pride offers things for people of all ages to enjoy, like live entertainment and festival favorites. There is a vendor market, a food plaza, and a beer tent, as well as workshops, a cornhole tournament, and a free KidSpace for children under 12 with games, prizes, crafts, a moonwalk, and a history walk.

Simply Celebrating

The atmosphere is always upbeat and positive, focusing on celebrating the LGBTQ community and what they have to offer. But Fultz says she still hears from people who say they shouldn’t “shove our personal business into people’s faces.”

“I have found that these are people who have never attended one of our festivals,” she said. “We are simply celebrating who we are. No one is forced to attend the festival or any of our other events. People being their authentic selves should not be offensive to anyone.”

Throughout the years, Fort Wayne has held a variety of cultural celebration festivals, and Fultz said she is excited for Pride to be among them.

“For many members of our community, Pride is their only opportunity to be themselves in public,” Fultz said. “There are still people who are worried about their safety or are not out because of fear of rejection by family, friends, and co-workers. We have people travel from all over the area to attend the festival, and it is an honor to create events like this for our community.”

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