Q&A: Stephanie Swanson, Indy Pride Festival Chair

The Circle City IN Pride Festival saw a spike in attendance in 2012, both in terms of volunteer manpower and goers at every one of a week’s worth of events from June 2 through 9. Here, Stephanie Swanson, 2012 Indy Pride chair, shares her thoughts on the successes, shortcomings, and opportunities that Indy Pride, Inc., and the Indianapolis LGBT community have both now and moving forward.

What are you especially proud of from this year’s eight days of events—in terms of numbers, for sure, and also in terms of volunteer aid and so on?

Of course we are extremely thrilled about the overall turnout on the day of the festival itself! In actuality, we had so many bright spots for the whole week, starting with the inaugural Rainbow 5K Run and Walk. With almost 400 participants for a first-year event, the tone for the week was set. We had record numbers at every event, and participation is a huge indicator of the success of the events. The other measure of success, in my mind, is feedback. And that has been so positive. Overwhelmingly positive, actually! We were amazed with how the energy of the week continued to build, one event after another, and continued even after Saturday’s grand finale had come and gone. 

But the thing that resonates through all of this is that it was all accomplished by 100-percent volunteer effort. The support from every element of the LGBT and S [straight] communities to help bring this week to life was so exciting and empowering. As we grow, this will be more and more difficult to execute in that same way. But I saw so many people, from my co-chair to the committee chairs, to the ticket seller and any other volunteer, giving 100 percent of themselves as it was needed and beyond. That’s special and more meaningful than any number.

To what do you attribute the increased participation, especially at the grand Pride event on June 9? Do you think LGBT people feel more safe and comfortable in public than ever before, and also comfortable with themselves, their identities?

This is a good question. I think we have to look at a few things. I’d like to think we did a better job of marketing the events to our community and beyond, but this is probably a small factor, in reality. The media coverage that was received this year was so positive and really focused on some of the more impactful initiatives of this year’s Pride versus only the stereotypical imagery of years past.  I think that this went a long way to portray our festival in a more positive and substantial light. Again, the programming of events was designed to try to appeal to all members of our community in some way, especially with the addition of the 5K and the greater emphasis on the family and all-ages events. 

It’s possible that our shift in focus is even more encouragement for families, gay or straight, to come and represent and demonstrate that our community is not much different than another and that the stereotypes of the past are no longer the gay norm. Make no mistake, this is an important time for issues of equality, especially for LGBT individuals. You can’t downplay the impact and power of an event where thousands upon thousands of people can gather and be unified in their common struggle for equality and acceptance. As that movement crescendos and we move out of the closets and into the mainstream, most certainly, it creates an environment where people can be proud and comfortable with themselves. This alone may be the largest contributing factor to our success.

The June 9 parade was quite long. I don’t recall it running that long, with so many entries, and after such humble beginnings. Can you speak to that?

It was long! With walking groups, cars, and floats, we have grown our parade to a size that is comparable to the Indy 500 Festival parade, which is the largest in the city. It won’t be long before we are in a position to move our once modest little march to the official parade route for Indianapolis. Won’t that be something? 

Indeed. Are there specific figures among those that Indy Pride posted on Facebook that you wish to highlight?

Obviously, Saturday’s attendance is one for the record books and the benchmark for next year. However, the remainder of the numbers, in totality, represent the generous and valuable partnerships with our sponsors, the trust and reliance upon on our purveyors, and the enormous effort by so many to make something truly magical happen.

What do you find especially works in Indy as Pride goes? Where do you see opportunities for growth and improvement?

What works? As a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, we are always trying to figure that out and find new ways to help us fulfill our mission. We are not just the festival, though it is our largest fundraising event for the year. Bag Ladies events [potentially the nation’s oldest HIV/AIDS fundraisers, started in 1981] and events centering around entertainment and social activities have historically been the events that attract the largest segment of the gay community in Indy. But as we have said already, the times are changing and so are we. We are making moves to incorporate more health- and wellness-related events to reach out to the individual whose focus might be different than that person who might enjoy heading out to one of the bars to watch the Bag Ladies do their thing.

One of our strongest initiatives annually is our focus on providing dollars for scholarships. Though we set aside thousands of dollars each year to assist recipients in their pursuit of higher education, there is great opportunity to engage the LGBT youth. This is probably the area with the greatest opportunity, the one that presents the greatest challenge, and the one with the highest importance. As they say, the children are our future.

How are attendance numbers tabulated, especially for the behemoth June 9 event downtown?

At the events throughout the week, we internally track the attendance. For the main event, the numbers are an IMPD estimate based on their fancy algorithms and crime-fighting calculus. [smiles] 

Any previews as to what Pride 2013 will look like, what’s on tap? I hear that Pet Pride will be at a downtown park, maybe even at the American Legion Mall [No. XXIX here]? Anything else?

I can say that before the first event was over we were already designing improvements and enhancements for 2013, and the actual planning is not far from starting all over again! Realistically, this year was instrumental in positioning us for the next level in so many ways. So many things were right, and the blueprint for success has been written. Yes, Pet Pride will likely move to a larger, yet undetermined venue as a result of its growing popularity. We might see the addition of a new event early in the week. I can’t divulge any information on that at this point, but it’s a good one! The main event will, as will the other events, undergo some tweaking and fine-tuning to enhance the participants’ experience. We like to think big so who knows what we might think of to push it one more level over the top? All I can say is, buckle up!

Will you lead on this again next year?

It looks that way, and I can’t be more thrilled! And Chris Morehead, who was invaluable during this year’s process, will be the co-chair with me.

» MORE: See the 2012 Indy Pride Fest by the numbers here.

» PHOTOS: Cats and pups and owners, oh my! We covered Indy Pride’s Pet Pride event on June 4.