The long-running women's festival encourages inclusion and childlike joy

From Thursday, Sept. 14 through Sunday, Sept. 17, an anticipated 1,500 women will camp out at the Ohio Lesbian Festival (OLF) at Legend Valley in Thornville. And most Columbus residents probably won't know about it. 

“I would say easily half the attendees are out of state,” said planning team member Pia Farrell. “Columbus doesn't come out that much because they have everything here, but a lot of women don't have what we offer.”

Founded by the Lesbian Business Association approximately 30 years ago as an annual one-day party, the nonprofit fest currently offers performances by women musicians and comedians, as well as workshops on everything from making crafts and playing music to discussing relationships and racism.

Organizers said they decided to keep “lesbian” in the title to honor their “herstory,” but stressed the event is inclusive of everyone — except men and boys over 6 years old.

“We have people who come who were born women and have since been living in the middle,” said Kristi Blasczyk, who is also on the planning team. “We have people who are trans women, we have women born women [and] we have women of color.”

The latter group, along with native and indigenous women, has a special “sanctuary” section to connect through shared experiences, organizers said.

New to the festival this year are a circus area, where women can learn to juggle and walk on stilts, and an extended archery workshop.

“It's such a powerful feeling to learn something new that maybe you were told by society wasn't a ‘girl' thing to do,” Blasczyk said.

In addition to empowering women, the festival also encourages attendees to revisit the simple, joyous activities of childhood, like parachute games and spelling bees taking place in the new community tent, which will also house the first-annual OLF fashion show.

Planning team member Christy Fulton remembered last year's epic balloon fight. “I watched these women go crazy and they were just beating each other with these balloons of water,” she said. “They were rolling on the ground laughing and I'm like, ‘This is amazing.'”

While OLF draws some comparisons to the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, which folded in 2015 after 40 years, the Ohio festival is “more laid back” Fulton said.

“Certain parts of our community are very politically intense and language can be very volatile when discussions are occurring,” Farrell said. “So we just ask that women are respectful to each other and not use terms that can be considered derogatory.”

“At the end of the day, it's our party,” Blasczyk said. “There's enough hate out here. We don't need to bring it there.”