What started as a local high student planning a local event to celebrate diversity has ballooned into a festival drawing national attention that could bring 1,600 people to downtown Columbus today.

Erin Bailey, a senior at Columbus Signature Academy-New Tech High School, said much of what she proposed to the Columbus Board of Works Feb. 20 has remained the same. Thirty-five booths ranging from the Columbus Pride Alliance to church groups, along with food vendors, will line Fourth Street between Jackson and Washington streets from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The event has been previewed worldwide, drawing heavy media attention because Columbus is the hometown of Vice President Mike Pence.

The Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C.- based organization that refers to itself as the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization, announced Friday that it will be in Columbus for today’s event.

“We are honored to participate in Columbus’ inaugural LGBT Pride Festival and prove once again that love trumps hate,” said Jennifer Pike Bailey, an Indiana native and senior public policy advocate, who will represent HRC at the event. “By fearlessly standing up for equality, Erin Bailey is showing Mike Pence, who has a long, disturbing record of attacking and demonizing the LGBTQ community, that Hoosiers won’t stand for his brand of discriminatory politics.”

The former Indiana governor was heavily criticized for his 2015 signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. The law, initially perceived as anti-gay for allowing businesses to refuse to serve gay and lesbian patrons, was quickly revised to include that businesses could not deny service to anyone based on sexual orientation, race, religion or disability.

Pence, through spokeswoman Alyssa Farah, said he “commends Erin Bailey for her activism and engagement in the civic process. As a proud Hoosier and Columbus native, he’s heartened to see young people from his hometown getting involved in the political process,” Farah said.

Bailey has said that the idea for her senior project — a requirement for all Columbus 12th-grade students — was never about Pence. Instead, it was about people knowing that Columbus is an open, inclusive and accepting community.

However, national press coverage of Pence’s connection to Columbus has resulted in people around the nation commenting on the event’s Facebook page that they plan to attend.

Bailey said Thursday that she had no idea how many people might be at today’s event, saying the Facebook RSVP numbers are all she has to go on as far as predictions.

When her city permit for the event was granted in February, she said she planned to reach out to groups that support the LGBT community locally and in Indianapolis. Those groups have stepped forward to have booths. After Bailey had to cut off booth requests when reaching 35, some people did complain on social media.

However, Bailey said there simply wasn’t room in one-block area to have more than 35 booths and two stages, one that will feature musicians performing and another that will have a drag show presented by the Back Door Bar in Bloomington.

Several Columbus churches will have booths at the event, including First Presbyterian Church, North Christian Church and the Unitarian Universalist Congretation of Columbus.

Columbus-based Cummins, Inc. will have a booth, posting on the Pride event’s Facebook page that “Not only is Cummins a proud supporter of the Columbus Pride Festival, but we look forward to participating in the event. Attendees can stop by the Cummins booth and learn how diversity and inclusion have been a part of our core values for nearly a half century.”

People staffing the Cummins booth will be handing out brochures which mention diversity and inclusion, including a timeline of milestones in the company’s efforts to support civil rights and marriage equality, said Jon Mills, Cummins spokesman. Some of the company’s recruiting staff will be at the booth, he said.

Lucabe Coffee Co. owner Alissa Hodge said her staff is ready for a crowd of customers who might walk north of the festival to the coffee shop at 310 Fourth St. While the normal day staff is four to six employees, nine staff members or more will be on duty today to make sure service is quick and high quality, she said.

“We have an amazing bar flow to get giant crowds through quickly,” she said.

Paul Heilbrunn, new operator for Bucceto’s in The Commons, said employees are thinking about wearing T-shirts to support today’s Pride event.

City officials aren’t too concerned about the attendance predictions, and will react accordingly to whatever size crowd arrives, said Dave Hayward, city engineer and executive director of public works.

As part of her permit, Bailey was required to make sure that enough trash receptacles will be in place, and is bringing in portable toilets, in addition to making arrangements with The Commons to direct people there for full restroom facilities.

“There is room for people to spread out on Washington Street (which will not be closed) on the sidewalks,” he said, which could alleviate any congestion in the event area.

Four off-duty Columbus Police Department officers have been hired by Bailey to provide security at the event.

Cleanup is part of Bailey’s permit and she will be required to have the area swept and cleaned at the end of the event.

Bailey started a GoFundMe account that is now at more than $6,000 to pay for event expenses such as security and other services.

Hayward said he believes one factor that could affect attendance is the weather forecast, which calls for rain throughout the day. Forecasters are predicting thunderstorms, with a 90 percent chance of rain with temperatures reaching the 70s.

The event will be held rain or shine, Bailey said.

If you go

What: Columbus Pride Festival

When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today

Where: Fourth Street between Jackson and Washington streets, downtown Columbus

Cost: Free

Featuring: Information booths, two stages for music and a drag show, vendors, food and more.

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.