Spotlight on: Summerfest (Interview Series)

During Summerfest, we caught up with Sarah and Abby Perfetti, two of the people who work to make events like this possible, to discuss Bloomington PRIDE, their stories, and the value of pride festivals in communities like Bloomington.

Thanks for speaking with us today! Could you tell us a little bit about what your role is within Bloomington PRIDE?

Sarah: I’m the executive director of Bloomington PRIDE, which is an organization that serves the LGBTQA community in Bloomington and south-central Indiana. We do this through primarily through our three signature programs: one is Summerfest, which is where we are today. Another is Prism Youth Community, which provides fun, educational, and social services for youth ages 12-20. We also have a film festival that we put on every January, which is the longest-running program we have – 2017 will be its 14th year.

Abby: I guess my title within Bloomington PRIDE would be Film Selection Coordinator. I manage the process of soliciting films from filmmakers and distribution companies for our committee to consider, and then I manage the agreements to screen the selected films at the festival. I do a lot of emailing with filmmakers and companies, which I enjoy a lot. They’re always so excited when we choose their films.

As our name might imply, we’re particularly interested in stories and what brought people to where they are now. Is there anything in particular that got you interested in wanting to be involved with the creation and development of something like Bloomington PRIDE and/or the programs you oversee?

Sarah: I came out a little later in life – I was 25 – and when I did, I wanted to get involved with the LGBTQ community. I’ve always loved to be involved in things. I like to start things, too – I’ve created clubs before and things like that on a smaller scale. I met my wife Abby in grad school; after grad school, she got a job in Indianapolis and we moved up there. I started volunteering by doing fundraising and different types of resource development projects for Indiana Youth Group, sometimes putting in up to thirty hours a week, but it was all volunteer work. They gave me an office, I had my own login, I had other volunteers helping me, and it was a lot of fun.

I got a job in Bloomington and Abby and I moved back here shortly after. When we did, I decided I really liked what I did for Indiana Youth Group and I thought Bloomington needed more services like that, beyond just the film festival. So Abby and I met with the director of the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, who helped start the film festival and kept it running for ten years. We sat down over drinks and said, “We have a three-to-five year plan and would love to see PRIDE serve more people in Bloomington through other types of services.” She said, “It’s all yours.” Within five months, I had created a board, written the bylaws, and done all of those things that gets your nonprofit incorporated. It’s just been going from there.

We’ve been very responsive to community members when it comes to the programs we put on. We do an audience survey every year at the film festival and found that a lot of people were saying, “The film festival is awesome, but we need something in the summer, too.” That’s how Summerfest was born.

Prism was the idea of our youth director Laura Ingram, who has a background in counseling. She met with me and we talked about the services she’d noticed weren’t being provided in Bloomington for youth who either didn’t have spaces outside of school or felt uncomfortable coming out at school or attending the GSA. Her solution was to start Prism.

My goal, my long-term dream, is to have Bloomington PRIDE be a catchall for anything LGBTQA. Right now we’re in the process of including the LGBT Aging and Caring Network – they’re running the bingo tent today. We just have all sorts of programs – and that’s the story behind them!

Abby: When I moved here in 2009 to get my Master of Arts at SPEA (I.U.), my graduate assistantship was at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. I’d been out for about three years and had never been involved with an LGBTQ organization or gone to a pride festival prior to that. I started volunteering for the film festival right away, which was the only component of PRIDE at the time, and it was just a program of the Buskirk then. Now it’s a free-standing nonprofit with tons of stuff going on. Anyway, after my first PRIDE Film Festival in January 2010, I was hooked. I got such an incredible feeling from being around all these queers celebrating our stories on film and in real life. It was so much more empowering than I ever could have imagined. You have to be there to get it.

Would you say there is value in having events like Summerfest in places like Bloomington, IN? If so, what would you say that is?

Sarah: Oh, I think it’s extremely valuable. Bloomington is a really open, safe, and progressive place that serves well beyond Bloomington – if you go just a few miles outside of here, there are many rural communities that just don’t have anything like this. For those communities, if it’s not Bloomington putting on these events and offering these services, there’s not necessarily another resource available to them.

It’s also especially important with the university here. A lot of young people – or even older people – are starting school, out of their house for what might be the first time, exploring their identities, and Summerfest happens right after school kicks off. It’s a perfect way to capture people who might just be walking down the street when they see all of this support. I would hope it would help them feel better about who they are.

Abby: Yeah, there’s a huge value to Summerfest and other such events. It makes our community more visible, which is important in a state like Indiana where some people would like to pretend that we don’t exist. But more importantly, it gives queer people and our allies and questioning people a place to be themselves. We get to celebrate everything that makes us amazing, in a really safe and inclusive space.

It’s also different than other cities’ pride festivals. It’s so Bloomington. There are tons of companies that come out to support us, but it doesn’t feel “corporate.” The music is perfect for Bloomington. It’s really family friendly, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come out and express your sexuality. There really is space for everyone to be themselves. And the fact that it’s free means there’s no barrier to attending, which is important for people who aren’t sure whether it’s the right place for them. Just come out and give it a shot!

Spotlight on: Summerfest

TW: none.

The city of Bloomington, Indiana holds a special place in my heart. Known affectionately by some who live here as an LGBT-affirming oasis in a vast, homophobic desert, it’s the place I’ve called home and come to think of as my own for the past several years – and the place where I finally feel I can breathe as a queer woman in this world.

There are many things I love about this city and many people and groups who have played a role in creating a supportive atmosphere for members of the LGBT community here. If I took the time to write out every one, I could fill a small book, and we’d be here for quite a while! So today, I’d like to focus on just one group, and just one event, which has played a significant role in helping Bloomington feel like a place I can call home. I’m involved in various ways with local organization Bloomington PRIDE, which boasts a film festival in the winter, a pride festival in the summer, a network for aging members of the LGBT community, and a composite social-support-activist group for youth ages 12-20 – all in our very own city. Back on August 27, 2016, they blocked off the streets of downtown for close to ten hours for that second event, a big rainbow block party of love and acceptance known as Summerfest.

On one end of the festival, community members and PRIDE volunteers engaged festival-goers in activities for all ages and skill levels, including bingo, bounce houses, and colorful crafts. On the other, an array of food trucks kept the crowd properly nourished and hydrated with delicious treats. In between, local vendors of all stripes – artists, merchants, representatives from the university, activist organizations, community groups, and more – helped deck out attendees in rainbows and informed those who approached their booths of the amazing people, programs, and resources making a difference in the state. On the main stage, musical and artistic performances of diverse styles and genres, including an original play called “The Gender Games,” a highly-anticipated drag show featuring Kaija Adonis and Axel Andrews from Pulse Orlando, and some late-night beats from headliner Will G.I.A.N.T. Sheridan, delighted for hours. Inside the historic Buskirk-Chumley Theater across the street, educational programs ranging from self-defense and yoga workshops to topic panels ran alongside the main stage entertainment for anyone who needed a break from the heat – or the crowd. Also inside the theater, a health program connected to the university offered free HIV testing all day. In front of a line of shops and restaurants, Blueline Media Productions snapped photos of expressions of love and handed prints to the friends and lovers who posed for the camera.

There was so much to see and do at Summerfest it was hard to keep track of everything going on! It was truly an event with something for everyone – which was good, considering the event was attended by people of all backgrounds and walks of life. I saw parents bend down to explain to their very small children why people were dressed up and dancing. I saw shy teens walk around the grounds with timid smiles on their faces, some of whom expressed quietly when I asked that they had just come out and it was their first-ever pride festival. I saw sixty-somethings revel in sharing stories of the early days of the LGBT rights movement with twenty-somethings. I saw couples share affectionate kisses in private and in public. Occasionally, I saw volunteers in grey T-shirts dash past with a walkie-talkie, a place to be, and a (metaphorical) fire to put out somewhere – Bloomington PRIDE’s board of directors, who dedicated an immense amount of time, effort, and energy to keep the event running smoothly alongside dozens of other members of the aptly-named Volunteer Squad, a title emblemized with pride on the front of their shirts.

Summerfest, like Bloomington, holds a special place in my heart. When I first moved here in the fall of 2014, the festival was my introduction to the city as well as to Bloomington PRIDE. I took it for granted at the time – it made sense to me that of course a town as liberal and accepting as this one was purported to be would have a pride organization and festival. Of course. What I didn’t realize then was that the organization we know now as Bloomington PRIDE had only formed within the past couple of years, and the festival arrived in town the same year I did. I no longer take either of these things for granted, and I have a much greater appreciation now for the work that goes into creating spaces where LGBT people feel safe to be themselves.

Why did I want to write about this event, other than the fact I like to talk up the place I call home and the groups I’m involved with? It’s no secret that I founded the Stories Project – a space to share stories about acts of violence, loss, and discrimination which have happened because of our or our loved ones’ identities – in part because of my own experience with anti-gay violence. For many years after that encounter, I was convinced I was doomed to a tragic existence that would probably be cut short before I was able to enjoy life as an out lesbian woman. Bit by bit, events like Summerfest, and groups like Bloomington PRIDE, are giving me back my joy. Bit by bit, I am starting to see that in spite of all the pain we have endured as a community, we still have so many reasons to celebrate. It’s healing to be joyful, to dance and drink and be merry. The continued value and benefit of events like these is that for people like me – like us – who have suffered as much as we have individually and collectively, they remind us that love and light and life still exist for us. In spite of everything.

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Author: Meg