Chris Handberg is a husband and foster parent with over 20 years of nonprofit experience. He has filled roles ranging from outreach advocate to program and research director, and he’s the former Executive Director of Indy Pride, Inc. Currently, he is the president of Chris Handberg Consulting where he works with organizations on strategic planning, achieving fundraising goals, and crisis communication.
Let’s Go Gay: Celebrating Pride Month in Indianapolis
After another year, June is finally here! The summer sun is shining, flags are flying, and rainbows are appearing all across the country. Indianapolis is all decked out for Pride Month, and that means it’s time to celebrate!
LGBTQ+ Pride has become a widespread movement in the past decade, but did you know that Pride’s been celebrated for over 50 years?
Pride originally started to commemorate the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, when patrons of The Stonewall Inn fought back against a police raid. June became Pride Month to honor their legacy, support the LGBTQ+ movement, and celebrate our community in all its colors.
Here in Indianapolis, Indy Pride was officially founded in 1995 to organize our annual Pride celebration, welcoming LGBTQ+ Hoosiers from all across the Indy region. Their events have evolved over the years, but Indy Pride always finds a way to bring us together—even during the pandemic.
Now, after two years of virtual programming, Indy Pride has returned with a big rainbow splash! From the annual Community Picnic to the Indy Pride Parade, Indianapolis is celebrating Pride Month with an excitement unlike ever before.
This summer, it felt like Pride was everywhere. On shopping trips, I saw Pride displays front and center. Corporate logos were painted in rainbows, and news outlets consistently reported on LGBTQ+ events, people, and history.
Pride has certainly been present in years past, but this was the first time I felt the normalization of the celebration. And it’s been a long time coming.
This progress is something to be proud of.
I remember the first time I went to a gay bar in the early 2000s. At the time, I was in my early 20s, slowly coming out to my close friends, while working as a minister for a denomination that would’ve fired me if they knew I was gay.
I made sure to park my car several blocks away and walked to Greg’s Our Place as quickly as possible. Back then, they covered the windows so it would be a completely safe experience. But I was still terrified of being caught, constantly scanning the room for familiar faces and hoping to see none.
It took time, but eventually I relaxed. I found myself feeling comfortable—and for the first time in my life, truly able to breathe. I turned to a new acquaintance and said, “I wonder if this is how people feel when they go to church.”
That feeling of unconditional acceptance—an understanding between strangers in a dark bar with no windows—is one of the reasons we celebrate Pride now. We remember our history, and we honor the community members who fought for equity and inclusion—then and now.
The LGBTQ+ community has made an impact on Hoosier history.
It’s only been about a decade since people started accepting LGBTQ+ people in mainstream society. In 2012, corporations weren’t spending millions in Pride advertising. Few employers offered benefits for same-sex partners, and the Democratic Party was still “evolving” on the issue of marriage equality.
But in the midst of that opposition, Indy’s LGBTQ+ community still came together. We organized for decades without any corporate sponsorship, political support, or social media advocates to defend us against persecution.
Most LGBTQ+ Hoosiers socialized privately until the 1980s, when people started gathering for larger events and demonstrations. These gatherings were crucial opportunities for people to strengthen their chosen families and fight the AIDS epidemic.
During this era, there were two key events that shaped our local history. The first was in 1984, when hundreds gathered to protest police surveillance and harassment of gay men in Indianapolis. Many were arrested, but the unity forged back then laid the foundation for today’s community.
The second was Indiana’s first major Pride celebration on June 30, 1990. Our LGBTQ+ community took center stage at Monument Circle—one of the most iconic landmarks in the city. Despite protesters, this celebration empowered the community and sparked the eventual creation of Indy Pride.
In May 2022, these two events were commemorated with a historical marker on Monument Circle. Indy Pride partnered with the Indiana Historical Bureau to research and apply for this monument. And after two years of hard work, they built Indiana’s first historical marker recognizing LGBTQ+ history!
I cannot put into words how much this marker means to me and the local LGBTQ+ community. As we continue to fight for equity, monuments like this remind us of the progress we’ve made—and the countless people who made it happen.
Indianapolis comes alive during Pride Month.
Through the spirit of protest and perseverance, these historic events evolved into Pride as we know it. Every June, Hoosiers trade their checkered flags for rainbow banners, and we fill the streets of Indianapolis for the annual Indy Pride Parade.
In 2022, Indy Pride hosted over 20 events to honor our history and celebrate our community. From drive-in movie nights to youth carnivals, they organized things to do all month long. We dressed up in rainbow bandanas for Pet Pride. We danced the night away at Girl Pride, and we connected with friends at #TransGlam for a prom-style event where everyone’s welcome.
But one of my favorite events is the annual Community Picnic—an Indy tradition that began in 1984. Since then, our local community always gets together at the beginning of Pride Month for a big family reunion. We grill food together, we dance in the park, we catch up with old friends, and we even play softball to raise funds for local HIV/AIDS organizations.
The Community Picnic is a cherished tradition, but for many of us, this year was particularly special. We finally got to reconnect after years of isolation, and we took the time to remember those we lost during the pandemic. The picnic allowed us to find some closure and gave us all a sense of renewal.
Thousands celebrate at the Indy Pride Parade.
After the picnic, Indy Pride hosted a week of other events and activities, all building up to the annual Pride Parade on Mass Ave. Thousands of people lined the city streets, decked out in rainbow outfits and waving their Pride flags for all to see.
Altogether, the 2022 Indy Pride Parade had over 60,000 attendees, including many allies from across the region. It was refreshing to see local companies encourage their people to come out and stand with the LGTBQ+ community! They cheered us on as we marched with extraordinary floats, local celebrities, colorful performers, and drag queens.
Then, when the parade was over, we all walked down the street to the Indy Pride Festival. They had three stages set up for live entertainment, featuring Glee alumni Alex Newell and two drag shows with performers from RuPaul’s Drag Race. The festival also had a variety of booths with local artists, nonprofits, and food vendors that came out to celebrate.
There were more than 30,000 people at the festival that year, but the crowds didn’t change the atmosphere. It still felt like a family reunion—as warm as it was welcoming.
Pride Month brings the Indy region together.
After years of hard-won progress, seeing thousands of Hoosiers celebrate Pride is a sight to behold. But Indianapolis wasn’t the only place to roll out the rainbow carpet! The Indy Pride Parade may be the largest LGBTQ+ event in Indiana, but you can find Pride celebrations all across the Indy region.
Carmel Pride is another popular event—with kid-friendly activities during the day and more adult-focused performances after sunset. Greenwood hosts their own local Pride festival every June, while Hendricks County has an annual picnic with food trucks, family activities, and yoga classes. And if you want to celebrate outside of Pride Month, Pendleton hosts their annual Pride event later on in October.
Indy also hosts events for different groups within the larger LGBTQ+ community. In 2022, Indy Pride announced their inaugural Latinx Pride event to celebrate Indy’s Latinx LGBTQ+ community. They also partnered with Indiana Pride of Color to coordinate a Juneteenth celebration explicitly designed for Black LGBTQ+ Hoosiers. These events create an important space for people to celebrate the relationship between their racial and sexual identities.
After all, that’s what makes Pride so meaningful. For one month out of the year, we get to stand in the spotlight and celebrate who we are.
As I walked around this year’s festival, surrounded by my community, I remembered that first night in the gay bar. After years of struggling for acceptance, many of us still feel like we’re outside of mainstream society. We still fight for a place to belong—except here. At Pride, we can dance with our loved ones. We can hold their hands without judgment or fear. For once, we can be ourselves—and that’s something worth celebrating.