'Valid and accepted': First Kokomo Pride festival considered a success

·5 min read

Jun. 19—Surrounded by cheering onlookers, Maddie Krieg was engaged to Lacy Strong in front of an archway of rainbow balloons. Grinning, she said had been surprised by Strong's proposal.

It was the couple's first time attending a pride festival together. Saturday also marked the first time Kokomo Pride hosted a festival.

Strong explained she had been planning to propose at the festival, hoping to make their first time attending one with her fiancee more memorable.

"I knew it was going to be soon," Krieg said. "Just not now, not today."

Days prior to the event, Sheyenne Adams, interim director of Kokomo Pride, explained the event was organized over the course of a few months. The organization had faced a handful of challenges, such as finding food trucks that hadn't already been booked by other festivals and learning more about the permits they would need.

"It's exciting," Adams said at the start of the festival. "It's been stressful, but exciting that people are here."

Paul Novak, a member of Kokomo Pride who founded the organization's youth group, explained Kokomo Pride was initially started in 2013 as an online group.

"I'm really proud of how far it's come," Novak said. "Every year it gets bigger and better."

The festival, which was held in the 500 block of North Buckeye Street, featured more than 20 booths of local and statewide businesses or organizations. Community Howard Regional Health, the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library and Turning Point were among the local organizations in attendance.

Sun King Kokomo was the primary host of the event and pledged to give 10% of the day's earnings to Kokomo Pride.

Skye Wilson, event coordinator for Sun King and a Kokomo Pride board member, said one of her first goals after starting at the brewery was to throw a pride event.

Within the first two hours of the festival, she said, the bar had more than 400 customers.

"It's amazing," Wilson said, "I could not be happier."

The brewery's loading dock was transformed into a stage for the festival, with four bands on the lineup.

Peacehead was the first to perform, going on shortly after the festival started at 1 p.m.

"I just love the feeling of being yourself and not caring what other people think," said Aden Johnson, a member of the local punk band.

Colin Halton, a guitarist in the second band, Numb Slog, mirrored Johnson's sentiment.

"I just like seeing people in the community out here and mingling," Halton said. "It definitely feels like something is coming. Kokomo is growing."

Adams took the stage between sets and thanked the crowd for attending. After cheers died down, she retrieved a manila folder and began reading a proclamation from the Mayor's Office.

In recognition of Juneteenth and Pride events held Saturday, Mayor Tyler Moore declared June 18, 2022, "Inclusion Day." In the document, he urged the citizens of Kokomo to "become more aware of the impact" of Saturday's events and to "reflect on the ongoing struggle for equality those in our community face."

Fade Salon, a shop that is located in the 500 block of Buckeye Street, was among the booths that lined the street. The tent's free glitter hair gel marked the hair and beards of multiple visitors.

Lindsey Ogle, who owns Fade Salon, said she had given the colorful arrangement of glitter hair gels a test run at the Indianapolis Pride festival. The gel had been popular there, as well.

"We wanted to contribute a fun, interactive, expressive activity," Ogle said. "It's been awesome."

Members of the Indiana Crossroad Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence sported colorful glitter beards at the festival. Dressed as nuns and holding paper fans, the three sisters posed with attendees who asked to take photos with them.

Each member's makeup took roughly 45 minutes to apply. Their white face paint hearkened back to the '70s, when members of the LGBTQ+ community had to keep their sexual orientation hidden.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is a nonprofit organization that aims to promote human rights and diversity, the group explained.

"We bring joy and expedite stigmatic guilt," said Sister Pinko Liberal Commie Snowflake-Nutjob.

There were also a handful of parents at the event with shirts or signs that said "free mom hugs" or "free dad hugs."

James Ashcroft, whose sign also said "You are valid," was happily surprised by the amount of people who had taken him up on the offer.

When he was younger, Ashcroft explained, he hadn't felt accepted and struggled to ask for the things he wanted. So, he was glad to see young people reaching out and asking for a hug.

"I just want everybody to know they're valid and accepted," Ashcroft said. "It's been really nice."

By 7 p.m., the festival was beginning to wind down. Vendors packed up while live music and celebrations carried on.

Adams noted the positive feedback she had received throughout the festival. Numerous attendees expressed joy for the event and a considerable amount of vendors sold out of merchandise, she said. Some vendors had even asked to be notified when they could sign up for next year's festival.

Already considering how the celebration could be improved upon, Adams said the next pride festival might be held in a park where visitors could spread out and more vendors would be able to set up booths.

Kokomo Pride will begin planning for the 2023 Pride Festival soon, she said.

James Bennett III can be reached at 765-454-8580 or james.bennett@kokomotribune.com.