Also new this year, organizations pledge to protect LGBTQ rights in order to march
This is a big year for the Stonewall Columbus Pride Parade and Festival. Events have shifted to the Downtown riverfront from Goodale Park — a move necessitated by significantly increased attendance and associated security concerns, according to Pride & Program Director for Stonewall Columbus Lori Gum.
“We've just outgrown the space,” Gum explained. “Our security needs and demands have increased due to the state of the world. When we learned Bicentennial [Park] was available, we grabbed it. It will definitely increase the footprint of the festival.”
Gum said the festival has received “no direct threats whatsoever,” and that any potential concerns are shared with the Columbus Police Division. She said that security is a greater concern due to the “LGBTQ community being at the intersection of a lot of hate groups, especially in this political climate.”
This same climate has given rise to what might be the most significant change to the parade — something that won't (necessarily) be seen along the parade route. Stonewall Columbus required parade applicants to show proof of an anti-discrimination policy protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees, or to pledge to have such a policy in place by Pride 2018, to be allowed to march in this year's parade.
“It had very little to do with the move or being more visible. [It's] more about redefining what an ally is,” Gum said. “[The Stonewall Columbus staff and board] started thinking about this the day after the election. We don't need an ally just for a day. We need to protect our community's jobs.”
Gum said that of the 221 entries in this year's Pride Parade, 165 already have such a policy in place. Of the rest, 48 are groups that are volunteer community organizations or otherwise do no hiring. Entities that pledged to put an anti-discrimination policy in place by next year were offered assistance from Stonewall in crafting such language, Gum said.
A handful of companies learned they don't have such a policy and were surprised.
“It's not that they weren't committed to being inclusive, but there had been an oversight,” Gum said. “So we're starting a conversation, redefining what an ally is, making companies re-examine their policies and maybe see what they didn't have.”
Gum said some faith communities who have traditionally marched in the parade were faced with being barred from participating this year — in particular ones that are local congregations of national churches.
Summit on 16th United Methodist Church Lead Pastor Rev. Laura Young said that while her congregation, and other individual congregations, can be non-discriminatory in hiring practices, the national church has not voted to remove discriminatory language that does not guarantee pastors from protection due to their sexual orientation. Young, one of five openly gay United Methodist clergy in the church's West Ohio Conference, said Summit on 16th is part of the fully inclusive Reconciling Ministries Network.
“Our church was founded in the 1970s on the desegregation of Columbus City Schools and LGBTQ non-discrimination,” said Young, who is in her first year at Summit on 16th. “We've always been radical. So we hope to be a reminder to the community that we are working hard to show that United Methodism does not equate to discrimination [and] that we're making progress.”
“I met with Methodist clergy and we ended up having a really great conversation,” Gum said. “We said that if they were part of a resistance movement or organization they could march as long as they marched behind a banner signifying that movement.”
Gum said that there were a number of unfinished parade entry applications, but that Stonewall's online registration form didn't track specifically at what point an applicant might have left its application incomplete, meaning there is no way to know if any potential entrants balked at taking the pledge. In retrospect, “we might have done that differently,” she said.
In any case, this year's parade has more entrants than last year's.
“There is a certain visibility that comes with marching in the parade, and we didn't want that to be a shallow visibility,” Gum said. “So what we're saying now is that all of these people and businesses and organizations and faith communities have stepped up to protect [the LGTBQ] community with their policies, and you can do it too.”