What I Know: Coby Palmer

Best known as one of Indy’s top florists, the 68-year-old Indy Pride pioneer helped bring the city’s LGBT festival out of the closet. Here he is, in his own words.

AGE: 68  GIG: Indy Pride pioneer  OUT AND ABOUT: Palmer, best known as one of Indy’s top florists, helped bring the city’s LGBT festival out of the closet. (Its 2013 run is June 1–9.)

The festival was at Westlake Park before it moved downtown in 1988. Before then, people were afraid to go downtown. They were afraid of having their pictures in the papers. You could have lost your job if you were gay.

The Indy Pride parade is all positive now. I don’t see any protestors anymore.

In 1982, we did Indy’s very first fundraiser for HIV/AIDS.

Back then, some funeral homes wouldn’t take AIDS patients, and the newspapers would always say “died of pneumonia.” We went to the first local funeral, and we watched the casket being carried out by people wearing rubber gloves.

We used to go to funerals once a week.

More people become infected every day. People think now they just have to take pills and they’re fine. People are becoming complacent.

The first gay bar I went to was called the Ruins, and it was on Pennsylvania. We were always lucky to have wonderful bars in town.

Indiana used to have a law that said gays couldn’t gather. That’s why they could go in and raid gay bars.

This is the first time we’ve had somebody on the City-County Council who is gay [Democrat Zach Adamson]. It’s phenomenal because our issues can be voiced.

Soon it won’t matter if young people have two mommies or two daddies. It’s going to be a thing of the past.

I’ve lived through it all, and Indianapolis has been a safe haven.

—as told to Ashley Petry

Indiana’s Gay-Rights Timeline

1981  Indy’s first GLBT festival debuts.

1985  Banned from his middle school, 14-year-old Ryan White changes the national dialogue on AIDS and sparks an eventual end to the stigma attached to the disease.

1995  Indiana bans same-sex marriage by statute but does not amend its constitution accordingly.

2011  After three failed attempts over the last decade, the legislature passes a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

2014  A referendum on the amendment could appear on the ballot in November. Eleven states have legalized same-sex marriage, and 30 have banned it.

2017  Supporters of same-sex marriage in Indiana will begin to outnumber opponents, says Nate Silver, political Nostradamus for The New York Times.

CROWN JEWEL: Palmer dusts off the Mardi Gras relic above to co-host the Bag Ladies Bus Tour bar crawl, one of the longest-running HIV/AIDS fundraisers in the nation.

Coby Palmer photo by Tony Valainis

This article appeared in the June 2013 issue. It has been updated to reflect that two more states have legalized same-sex marriage since press time.