The Early Years
Before the 1980s, GLBT Pride as we know it today did not exist in Indiana. There were no gay bars or other safe spaces for those in the GLBT community. The largest hotel in Indianapolis, the Atkinson, had a bar which was known as a cruising spot. The bar got so “cruisy” that the management hung up a small sign by the door which said “NO’ and then had a picture of a pansy.
Stan Berg, founder of The Works, and Chuck Avery were Indianapolis’ gay activists. Chuck had a paper called The Mirror and Stan started The New Works News as a competing paper. Both papers lasted until the early to mid-1990s.
Stan was known for showing his pride more as “acts of defiance.” Perhaps his most blatant act occurred when he chained himself to the fence by the Monument on the Circle and waited for the police to cut him loose and take him to jail. The event was covered on the news since Chuck himself had notified the media before his arrest.
The first Pride event in Indianapolis was a dinner which was held in 1981 at the old Essex House Hotel. The hotel, now torn down, was located on Pennsylvania Street where today’s Indy Pride Parade turns the corner onto Pennsylvania from Vermont Street. Justice, Inc. was one of the early Pride organizers. Justice held a variety of indoor events (banquets, brunches, etc.) through the mid-1980s. These events featured out-of-town guest speakers and were held at the Essex, Atkinson (where the Hyatt is today), and the Hilton On The Circle (now the downtown Sheraton Hotel).
During this same period, a “second pride” event was held. This event was a late-summer picnic which was held in a park on the west side of town. This event was hosted by Johnny Martin and Paul Eckart who owned The Unicorn Club. The picnic lasted well into the 1990s although it was never “officially” part of Pride.
In 1987, Pride was observed by Justice, Inc. at Riley’s Pub which was located at 650 N. Alabama. The following year, Pride “came out of the closet” and Celebration On The Circle was held at Monument Circle. Pride was held on Monument Circle until 1991. Because of a lack of shade and a request from the City of Indianapolis to have fewer events block the center of town, Pride was moved to University Park. University Park was the venue for 1992, 1993 and 1994.
1995 – Indy Pride, Inc Established
In 1995, Indy Pride, Inc. was established as an independent organization. Jim Lasher was the first Chairman, Bill McKinley and Jeffrey Cleary were the Co-Chairs of Pride that year. The Pride celebration was also moved from June to Fall that year. Further, the venue was also changed from University Park to the then-new Canal. Problems abounded: the long, narrow canal with water separating the sides was not well attended; the budget was overspent; and an admission fee for some events left many refusing to attend. The result was a $10,000+ debt.
With the large debt, it appeared that there would be no pride after 1995, but two different groups stepped up to organize events. The Word and Justice, Inc., under the leadership of Wally Paynter of Evansville, hosted the traditional event at University Park/Veterans Plaza. All proceeds went to Justice, Inc. The second event was held in the fall on Talbott Street by the new Indy Pride, Inc. This newly re-organized Indy Pride was led by Linda Batchelor-Ballew.
Between 1996 and 1999 both Pride events co-existed and worked together. Indy Pride paid back all of the money due to vendors, distributors, and members of the community. In addition, The Word paid all of the bills for the June events and donated the profits (between $5,000 and $10,000 annually) to Justice, Inc. In 1999, under the chairmanship of Alan Witchey who coordinated the June event, negotiations began to combine the events. During Bathelor-Bellew’s presidency, Indy Pride began an annual scholarship program and the Community Thanksgiving Dinner. In 1997, the organization applied for and was approved as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt status organization. The first Indy Pride office was also established in Fountain Square. Batchelor-Ballew and Pride’s long-time Treasurer Eric Munsch balanced the books and put the organization “back in the black.”
During the period 2001-2003, under the leadership of Ivan Howard more and more events were combined and the event was moved to Mass Avenue as a Street Fayre. During this period, a picnic was added which was held the Sunday after the Street Fayre at Eagle Creek Park.
In 2003, Indy Pride ended the Street Fayre on Mass Avenue and combined the two Pride events into a Festival which was held at University Park. The mid-June date was chosen. Attendance grew from 6,000 people in 2002 to 10,000 in 2003.