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.
The vice president is one of the most anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ+ politicians of this generation. He's been fully supportive of President Trump's anti-choice agenda, calling him the "most pro-life president" in history. And as governor of Indiana, Pence signed the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" into law, which advocates said effectively allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people in Indiana. He has also been accused of supporting the practice of "conversion therapy" — the psychotherapy method used to try to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity, which has been long-discredited by the medical field.
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.
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, neighbours 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."
But while getting the permits and organising the event has been a smooth process where Bailey obtained a lot of support, she has faced a lot of backlash online. The teen said she's been criticised over her decision to organise the festival, with some people even disparaging her appearance. But she remains unfazed by the haters, instead focusing on what the celebration will mean for her community.
"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.)
"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."
Read these stories next: