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!