Commentary

Set out the welcome flags

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The colors of Crawfordsville show as you drive, walk, or jog the city. Some streets are lined with Just Be Kind and Everyone is Welcome Here yard signs, others with “Blessed” or “Welcome” boards leaned on porches. Here and there, from Spann Avenue to the 4-H Fairgrounds, PRIDE flags flutter from porches between houses with other flags and signage. In driveways, rainbow bumper stickers announce year-round that the county is home to all kinds of people.

June is PRIDE month, and Crawfordsville’s Humans United for Equality and Crawfordsville PRIDE had planned celebrations only to have them scuttled by the pandemic. Yet, there is at least one PRIDE display this year, Kenya Ferrand-Ott’s Wild PRIDE at Athens Art, signaled Crawfordsville is becoming a community that dignifies all its citizens. Members of the LGTBQ+ community would love to have all local businesses and organizations to signal that welcome.

Not every day in PRIDE month is celebratory. June 12 memorializes a horrifying 2016 crime against 49 people in Orlando, all targeted for being LGBTQ+. That’s just one of thousands of assaults, murders and acts of violence committed over the years. So PRIDE is an opportunity to hold in solidarity those who died by suicide because of the estrangement, rejection and hostility they’ve experienced for their gender identity or sexual orientation. Such estrangement and hostility is familiar to many who identify as LGBTQ+, and it makes people feel “icky, deep down soul stuff,” said Sara Blakely, who has lived in Crawfordsville since 2012 and identifies as bi-sexual.

“In smaller communities, a lot of us kind of hide and try not to be seen,” Blakely said. It feels safer to hide until a community sends the message that it’s OK to be one’s self. Blakely would like small towns like ours “have events during PRIDE, and it doesn’t have to be a parade, but to have shops put out flags or equality stuff makes it known that those are safe places.”

She noted that it’s almost scary for small town shops to do this. She wondered if they are scared they will get backlash, whereas in big communities the backlash comes from not putting up equality signs.

“You hear about the legendary hospitality of small towns, which they do have when you’re ‘like us’ but turned off when you are different,” said Maddie Miles, who grew up in Osceola and married Crawfordsville native, Jessie Miles. Jessie and Maddie live in Indianapolis, but visit family here often. Jessie’s family has always been loving and her friends in high school were great, but just “coming out as vegetarian” in high school made her a bit of an outsider. At first, students scooted away from her at the lunch table. If being the lone vegetarian was weird then, so was dealing with her attraction to girls. She dated boys because she didn’t have the resources to express herself yet. Jessie, Maddie and their daughter Christah came out to her family in recent years: Maddie as a trans woman, Christah as a trans child and Jessie as a lesbian. Maddie said that Jessie’s family never stopped believing they were wonderful parents and beloved members of the family, even if there was a period of adjustment. Conversely, Maddie’s family took the news differently. She described walking into her parents’ living room and “all they saw was sin.”

Nevertheless, there has been a lot of positive change over the years.

Dr. Elan Pavlinch, who supports the ‘shOUT Student group for Wabash’s LGBTQ+ students, noted that smaller communities are just now realizing that they’ve always had queer friends, family and neighbors. They often become more welcoming once they know someone personally.

At times there is still backlash. Pavlinich has been shouted at while grocery shopping, and some Wabash students experienced backlash after their celebration of LGBTQ+ history month last October. Other Crawfordsville natives, like CHS alums have witnessed their teachers harassed by students. Friends are called names or intimidated for who they are.

“Backlash comes from a place of fear, not understanding, not wanting to understand and having your foundations and sense of self challenged. When people want to be overly protective of a worldview that is being shaken, they lash out,” Pavlinich said.

A healthy response is “to create space and boost the signal and life experience of those in any marginalized community, whether Black, POC or LGBTQ+,” Pavlinich said. He praised Ferrand-Ott and Dr. Helen Hudson for work on Wild PRIDE, which will remain in place through June 30. Another positive signal is that Mayor Todd Barton attended the June 15 gala and spoke with families.

The willingness to support, to show up and to welcome is the responsibility of any organization, business or group that wants to signal the inherent dignity and value of LGBTQ and marginalized humans. The absence of a signal foments uncertainty. Can any couple,not just heterosexual ones, hold hands when they enter? Will someone be harassed for appearing different? Visible welcome, which can be posted all year, creates a positive space and develops community. The League of Women Voters supports equality and dignity of all, regardless of religion, politics, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, race and ethnicity and invites us to ensure our communities explicitly do the same.

 

The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.

 

 

 

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