Vice President Mike Pence’s hometown in Indiana will host its first Pride Festival ever, thanks to a teenage girl.
Erin Bailey, 18, told Refinery29 the Columbus Pride Festival is her senior year project — an assignment which the Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School requires her to complete in order to graduate. The festival will take place on April 14 and there will be everything from speakers, food, and vendors to a drag queen performance and an art show.
Bailey said her school’s projects are supposed to benefit the community and she thought a Pride festival would be a way to support the LGBTQ+ folks in the city.
“I was thinking, What do we don’t have in Columbus that we need? I’m very passionated about reproductive rights and LGBT rights, so I thought: I should do an LGBT festival! That would be awesome, because we’ve never had anything like that in Columbus,” she said.
A post shared by Erin Bailey (bean) (@erinlikesplants) on Jan 21, 2018 at 7:00pm PST
The festival is also a message for Pence.
Bailey is aware that Pence’s ties to anti-LGBTQ+ policies might mean those outside of Columbus might think the town feels the same way as the vice president, so she hopes the festival changes that perception. And she would like Pence to pay attention.
“Maybe Mike Pence can see from this festival, taking place where he grew up, that we don’t agree with [his stance on LGBTQ+ issues] — so he should listen to us,” she said.
Back in Washington, D.C., Pence is certainly aware of the noise the 18-year-old has made, though he has refrained to comment on the festival directly.
“Vice President Pence commends Erin Bailey for her activism and engagement in the civic process,” spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said in a statement to the Indianapolis Star. “As a proud Hoosier and Columbus native, he’s heartened to see young people from his hometown getting involved in the political process.”
If Bailey got involved in the political process, it’s because she understands the LGBTQ+ community — her community — still has to go a long way to obtain full acceptance, in Columbus and beyond.
@VP Hello! My name is Erin Bailey and I am a senior in Columbus, Indiana. For my senior project I am hosting a Pride Festival. I was wondering if you would be interested in attending and showing your support for all the LGBT members of your hometown!
— Erin Bailey (@erindigsplants) March 24, 2018
The high school senior identifies as bisexual. She said that growing up she saw it was hard for a lot of people in the town to talk openly about LGBTQ+ issues. They did in “hush-hush tones,” she said. But she thinks that through the project, neighbors might be more open to discuss what it means to be queer and the difficulties the community is currently facing. She also hopes that the festival can inspire other young queer teens.
“I think it’s going to be really beneficial,” she said. “It will be a gateway for other members of the LGBTQ community — younger ones — to see they can do anything they put their minds to.”
“I just don’t pay attention to the comments anymore. And I’m in high school,” she said, with a bit of annoyance on her voice. “Don’t they have anything better to do?”
To an extent, Bailey has received pushback just like the student activists from Parkland, FL,— who have faced everything from conspiracy theories to being mocked by adults in the weeks since they survived the Feb. 14 school shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. (The Parkland kids, by the way, have been showering Bailey with support on Twitter.)
@ErinBai14960629 This is beyond words, I am SO PROUD OF YOU !!!! THIS IS THE KINDA CONTENT INSIGNED UP FOR !!! Erin you have Made my Year https://t.co/Q4kKMQ75Ds
— Emma González (@Emma4Change) April 2, 2018
Bailey said that, despite the challenges, her generation won’t stop fighting for what’s right — whether that’s creating spaces for the LGBTQ+ community like her festival, advocating for women’s rights, or demanding lawmakers to pass gun safety measures.
“We’re the future and it’s very important for us to be able to speak up,” she said, “We’re the ones showing everyone this is what we believe and we’re not backing down.”
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