JEFFERSONVILLE — Festival director Erin Short intends for Southern Indiana Pride be the face of inclusivity in the area.
So as she prepares for the area's fourth annual pride parade and festival, she wants Southern Indiana's LGBT community to know that there is a space where they will be welcomed and supported.
"I think it's a great opportunity for the LGBT youth and the LGBT community as a whole to have a place in their backyard where they can go," she said. "It's really important for me to blast the pride, because we need it."
The annual Southern Indiana Pride parade and festival takes place Saturday in Jeffersonville. The parade will begin 4 p.m. at West Seventh Street, and it will travel down to Spring Street and West Chestnut. The festival will feature more than 60 vendors, food and drinks and live entertainment at Big Four Station following the parade.
The organization has seen several changes in the past year. This will be the first year that the annual event is called "Southern Indiana Pride" — the organization's name was changed last fall from "Jeffersonville Pride." Short, 20, recently took over as the festival director, and Evan Stoner, the former director and founder of the organization, now serves as the president of Southern Indiana Pride's board of directors.
The event will feature local entertainment onstage from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., including live music and a drag performance from New Albany's PRIDE bar + lounge. Southern Indiana Pride also partnered with Clucker's in Jeffersonville to provide a beer garden at the festival for the first time.
Short said she has been excited to see her vision for the event come to life in her first year as director. She has been planning the festival since last July, and she looks forward to seeing people enjoy the event in an inclusive space.
Changing the name of the organization was one of Short's first changes. She wants to make sure the organization's name and mission reflects LGBT members from the Southern Indiana community as a whole.
"We have Louisville right across the river, which has a huge LGBT community," she said. "New Albany and Southern Indiana as a whole don't have that as much, and I really wanted us to work toward that."
Short grew up in a conservative household, and she didn't attend a pride festival until she was almost 17. When she attended Kentuckiana Pride in 2016, she felt like it was in a whole other world — it was a welcoming space where she felt she could truly be herself, she said.
Now, directing Southern Indiana Pride is like a dream for her, she said, and she intends for the community to enjoy the same kind of inviting environment this weekend.
"It was so important for that time in my life to be able to go, and so now for me to say I have my own festival and I'm directing it myself with the help of Evan [Stoner] just means a lot to me," she said.
The festival is a space where people will be welcomed with open arms "whoever they are or who they love," Short said.
Stoner said Short has been leading the organization and event to new heights as festival director, and he is happy to see the event continue to thrive in Jeffersonville and Southern Indiana. The festival has grown each year, and the organization has received support from city leaders and residents, he said.
"I've had plenty of people come up to me and say, 'I never thought an event like this would be held in my city,'" he said. "But you know, it's not just LGBT people. That's something we've pushed from day one. This is not just about the LGBT community as a whole and about us building each other up as people and us building each other up as a city. That is the most important goal of Southern Indiana Pride — to spread the message to treat people like people."
The event will be family-friendly, and Stoner wants community members of various ages to be included in the event. It is focused on a "hometown family festival feel," he said.
Stoner said the central messages of the parade and festival include freedom from prejudice and hatred, the strength of diversity and the importance of inclusiveness in taking Southern Indiana to the next level.
"Personally, I believe that every person is born free from prejudice and free from any sort of discriminatory tendencies, and our culture is what teaches people to hate," he said. "What we hope to do as Southern Indiana Pride is to spread a message of love and kindness and the message that all people deserve to be treated with dignity. Everybody is a human being, and everyone deserve to be happy."
Luanne Mattson, assistant director of SoIN Tourism, said the festival and parade are positive, friendly events for the community that draw people in from Southern Indiana and outlying areas. The tourism bureau has been a sponsor of the event for the past few years, and she said she wants to make sure everyone feels welcome in Southern Indiana.
"We think its a really good event that people are enjoying and that we like to support," she said. "I think it just shows our openness to people. Hoosier hospitality is something people talk about, so we want to make sure when people come here — no matter who you are — you have Hoosier hospitality."
From the beginning, the organization has responded to issues of bullying and hatred occurring in local schools and in the community, according to Stoner. That focus on creating an accepting and welcoming community in Southern Indiana continues to grow, he said, and there's still plenty of work left to go.
"If you're a parent somewhere and your kid comes out to you, and says, 'I'm gay' ... you want to know that your kid is going to live in a world one day where they're not going to be discriminated against for who they are, and I think that's why it's so important, because it's about people's lives," he said. "People love this city, people love Southern Indiana, and they shouldn't feel like they have to move or go somewhere else to be who they are. This is everyone's home."