Thousands attend march, join mission to spread Pride, joy
Donning rainbow flags and signs promoting love and tolerance, hundreds gathered at the gates of Headwaters Park to take part in the sixth annual Pride March late Saturday morning.
Fort Wayne’s 21st annual Pride Fest kicked off with a Friday night dance party, followed by a full day of festivities Saturday, including a vendor market, workshops, a cornhole tournament, children’s activities and entertainment from different musical groups.
In Nikki Fultz’s 18th year as executive director, she expected to see over 14,000 people at this year’s festival.
“It’s just a great, two-day event with a celebration of diversity,” Fultz said. “We’re obviously out there to celebrate the LGTBQ community, but we are also celebrating our straight allies and just showing Fort Wayne as much love as we can.”
While Fultz puts in a lot of time to organize and prepare the event, she said her favorite part every year is to watch everyone enjoy themselves and be free to express themselves.
Pride has come a long way since it first began in 1997, with only 100 people in attendance at the half-day festival. Fultz said the city of Fort Wayne has grown as well.
“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, it’s a conservative town and it’s in Indiana,’ but I’ve felt so much love throughout the past 18 years,” Fultz said.
Wrapped in a rainbow flag silk, Alondra Araujo and her friends waited for the march to begin.
It was the 22-year-old Fort Wayne native’s fifth time attending Pride Fest. She said the festival has always been a place for visibility among the gay community, whether attendees be queer, transsexual or non-binary.
“It’s nice to see that there’s a community here, and that people don’t forget that they’re not alone and that there’s a place that they can still be safe,” Araujo said.
A single protester stood across the street from the park’s Lincoln Financial Pavilion with a microphone as participants finished the march.
Members of the Sisterhood of Perpetual Indulgence, an LGTBQ organization that aims to call attention to sexual intolerance through drag, drowned out the protester’s words by waving large hand fans.
“Our mission is to spread joy, and help remove stigmatic guilt,” Sister Ophelia said. “I am so happy pride is spreading all over the state, as it should be.”
Near the end of the march, 29-year-old Benjamin Lazano cheered as he waved a rainbow flag.
Attending Pride Fest for a second time, he said he looked forward to the sense of community most.
“It’s a symbol of freedom. It’s a symbol of who we are,” Lazano said. “It’s an expression of love and honesty and truth in a totally different setting than we’re used to.”
For Fultz, she hopes Pride Fest shows the Fort Wayne community that those who identify on the LGTBQ spectrum are just like everybody else.
“We’ve got families, we’re all in different kinds of occupations and we’re contributing members of society,” Fultz said. “I think that having that visibility in Fort Wayne is important to the community.”