Approximately 600 people attend second Pride event in Seymour

On June 26, 2015, the landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges legalized gay marriage in America.

Seven years to the day, nearly 600 people attended Seymour’s second Pride event at Celebrations in Seymour.

Katrina Hardwick of Seymour helped plan the city’s inaugural Seymour Pride event last year within three days so those wanting to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community wouldn’t have to travel out of town.

Approximately 100 people attended last year’s event at Crossroads Community Park in downtown Seymour. It featured music, door prizes, art stations, food, drinks and testimonials from speakers.

Hardwick said planning started for this year’s Pride event in March and was organized by a steering committee that consisted of herself, Tiffany York, Mars Rogers, Katie Schwipps, Olivia Whan, Lacy Rae and Basil Miller.

The scope of the family-friendly event expanded this year with more activities, vendors, nonprofit organizations providing resources, performers, dancers, singers, testimonials, stand-up comedy, food trucks and a raffle auction. An indoor venue accommodated more people and a drag show.

After crossing through a rainbow balloon arch to enter the venue, attendees were welcomed by a table with markers and name tags that helped create an inclusive atmosphere.

Students from Seymour High School’s Gay Straight Alliance with staff leader Carrie Miller facilitated a kids craft corner that had face and rock painting and tutu making.

“We have Pride events for LGBTQIA+ people of all ages to be able to gather and celebrate living openly and authentically after so many years of having to hide in fear of not being accepted or of being condemned,” Hardwick said. “Representation matters so much. If we can have an event where these people see that they are far from alone in regards to other LGBTQ+ people who live here, too, as well as supportive straight allies, it helps erase shame and fear and helps builds confidence.”

Pride events help members of the LGBTQ+ community grow as people and feel included with people with similar backgrounds, Hardwick said.

“I spent 20 years of my life scared to come out and feeling like I could never truly be myself and be loved,” she said. “I was always worried about who I would disappoint. Events like this also help people like me heal and grow from those types of pasts and feel safe and loved. Pride saves lives.”

Hardwick said even though she felt it was important to create a safe and comfortable environment for young members of the LGBTQ+ community, she also wanted adults to feel included at Pride.

“It’s important to focus on the kids, but as a 43-year-old woman, let me tell you this is just so affirming and so amazing that there are other adults here,” she said. “I struggle to think that there are other adults in the (LGBTQ+) community and don’t realize it. Now, we can have community that supports each other and knows who everyone is.”

One performer was Lydia Suzan, a second runner-up in last year’s Miss Indiana USA that currently carries the title of Miss Pride of Indiana. She also won Miss Congeniality and received awards for the talent and interview portions of that pageant.

She gave a testimonial about her experience as a queer woman in the pageant world and sang “That’s Life” and “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.

When Suzan started competing in the Miss USA program, she said contestants were allowed to choose their own title, so she chose the title of Miss Pride of Indiana and was the first openly queer candidate at Miss Indiana USA after she came out as pansexual and nonbinary during her tenure.

“Being openly queer isn’t normalized in pageantry, so I decided I wanted to take up that space authentically to show other people who love and look like me that they can, too,” she said.

Pansexual is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender or gender identity,” and nonbinary is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “relating to or being a person who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that is neither entirely male nor entirely female.”

Suzan said she uses both “she” and “they” pronouns.

She was born and raised in Kendallville in northeast Indiana. The city has a population of 10,271.

After coming out as queer, Suzan said her experience has been 70% positive and 30% negative. While she said she has lost relationships with people who were close to her, finding her own friends and family in the LGBTQ+ community make it worth being openly queer.

Kendallville has yet to hold a Pride event, but Suzan said she is optimistic it will someday, and she hopes to see every town and city have its own event.

Joseph Burnette, a teacher at the Seymour Middle School Sixth Grade Center, attended Pride wearing a cape with rainbow shoulder pads and a rainbow flag that said “Every One Is Welcome Here.”

He said he and a teacher’s aide went as rainbows for a Halloween parade at his school by wearing a similar cape and a shirt that said “Ally” in rainbow lettering.

Burnette said he saw “a twinkle in so many eyes” when he walked in the parade and had kids thanking him throughout the school year for the LGBTQ+ representation.

“This day and age, a lot of people might say that sixth grade is too soon,” he said. “I’m not pushing an agenda, but I’m trying to support the kids that already know who they are.”

He said he received comments from students asking about his rainbow attire.

“Kids were coming up to me like, ‘Are you gay?’ and I’m like, ‘You’re wearing a Colts shirt. Do you play for the Colts?’” Burnette said. “I don’t have to be on the team to support them.”

Alexander Huckelberry, 24, attended Seymour Pride with Julia Vasquez, 25.

Huckelberry said it was the first time he has been to Seymour Pride but had been to events in Columbus, Indianapolis and Lafayette. He said he likes attending Pride events to hang out and meet other people.

Huckelberry said he normally wears a shirt to Pride events that says “Free Hugs” because he feels there are children who aren’t able to get that support from their families.

He said he thought the turnout Sunday was great.

“There’s so many people and so much support,” Huckelberry said.

Vasquez said she had never been to a Pride event before and said the love she could feel from a small community made her want to attend a larger event.

She said she came out publicly a month ago and was hoping to go to Seymour Pride to meet new people, have a good time and feel loved and not alone.

“I walked in by myself because I don’t have a lot of friends in this area, and one of the girls at one of the booths was immediately open with me,” Vasquez said. “She said, ‘You showed up for you, and that’s really strong of you.’ That inspired me to talk to more people.”

Vasquez said she hopes people outside of the LGBTQ+ community can attend Pride and meet people themselves.

“Whether we like one gender or another or more genders, it doesn’t make us any different, so I think it’s a great idea that people that aren’t necessarily a part of the community come out and get to experience this,” she said.

Seymour Pride’s steering committee raised money through shirt and raffle sales and currently is trying to establish a 501(c)(3) organization that will help support LGBTQ+ youth and adults by planning more events, volunteering for Jackson County community events, creating support groups and offering assistance.

Cummins Inc. and Serenity Closet partnered to provide a large grant to establish the organization.