FORT WAYNE – In a shaded spot near the entrance of Headwaters Park, Michael Chandler found a place to sit and rest after he walked in the Pride Festival march Saturday.
The brief march of nearly 200 participants, which began at Headwaters, went through Freimann Square, around the south side of the Allen County Courthouse and back, opened the second day of the 17th annual festival, which celebrates the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The two-day event, which includes live entertainment, vendors, a beer tent, workshops and a place for kids to play, annually attracts more than 7,000 people.
It’s celebrating where we came from and who we are as a community, festival Director Nikki Fultz said.
Chandler said this was the first time he participated in and attended the event.
This was sort of a bucket-list thing, he said. I’m 50. And it’s part of being involved in the gay community and the larger community. I just wanted to be involved.
Since the first event in 1997, which attracted only 100 people, the festival has grown precipitously.
Just looking at our festival – and it’s in its 17th year – you think about the gay rights movement, and it has been going on significantly longer than that, Fultz said. Just in Fort Wayne, itself, thinking back to where we started and where we’ve come, it’s completely a 180 (degrees) on what’s happening in our city.
We get a lot more support from the media and the government, and we find a lot more different types of vendors that are local businesses and not owned by the gay community. They’re owned by straight allies that want to reach out and make sure that we feel welcome, and organizations that don’t just work with a few different people; they work with all different type of people.
And there has been a huge shift in attendance. That also contributes to the fact that we get a lot more visibility and there are a lot more different types of people who are coming to the festival.
One of whom is Chandler.
Over the course of the last 40 years, things have changed, particularly in the last five to 10 years, Chandler said.
Things have changed very, very rapidly, and it’s so commonplace, and we see images of gay people on television and on the radio and in newspapers and in magazines all day long. It’s becoming less unusual.