Five Years In, Thanks for Following

It’s a milestone anniversary, but we’re only just beginning.

I missed our anniversary. On April 12, 2020 OUT in Michigan City turned five years old. COVID-19 has us all distracted. I was aware that the anniversary was coming up and I wanted to throw a huge party with our logo on everything. I had hopes of raising money for Michigan City PRIDE Fest 2020 by making our anniversary party a fundraiser. Yet here we are, like for so many people life is on hold. It’s like we’re fly’s stuck in amber watching the world go by without us. PRIDE events all over the nation are being cancelled including the iconic San Francisco and New York PRIDE events. I haven’t heard what’s going to happen in our hometown but I don’t have high hopes.

John M. Livelsberger interviews LGBTQ rights activists Steven & Joshua Snyder-Hill. Photo Jack Foos-Gordan

I started OUT in Michigan City five years ago after a visit to Indianapolis. My husband and I traveled to Indy so I could get an interview with LGBTQ rights activists Steven Snyder-Hill and his husband Joshua for an LGBTQ online news magazine based out of Chicago and we participated in a protest march during the weekend of the NCAA playoffs. The march was in protest of the newly signed Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I had never marched in protest before, but what I found in Indianapolis was a community that pulled together. The energy and love in the air moved me and was so palpable you could almost reach out and touch it. By the end of the day I got my interview with the Snyder-Hills but I brought back to Michigan City so much more.

We have a large LGBTQ community here in Michigan City and in the surrounding communities, yet why weren’t we organized? So I started OUT in Michigan City. I wanted our community informed on what law makers in Indianapolis were doing. I wanted us to have a sense of community and I wanted us to support and love one another. Lot’s of city’s have a “gayborhood,” Michigan City is one big gayborhood and it was long past time that we pulled together as a community and showed our PRIDE in our city and each other.

From Left, Jayda Pill, Wilma Fingerdo, and Dena Richards. Photo: Facebook

In the five years since we went live others in our community have had the same idea. Michigan City’s LGBTQ community has arrived and we’ve become an oasis in Northwest Indiana where we can live and love openly and I could not be anymore prouder of my adopted hometown. We now have LGBTQ friendly business’s, those businesses are suffering because of the social distancing restrictions, yet there’s hope. Drag queens Wilma Fingerdo, Jayda Pill, and Dena Richards are helping support Fiddlehead Restaurant and it’s employees by running take out orders to waiting cars on Saturday afternoon. Because of them giving a few hours of their time Fiddlehead sold out of food they last two Saturdays and can remain open and pay their employees. There’s the love and sense of community I was looking for five years ago, as I figured it was right in our backyard this whole time.

Protesting RFRA in Indianapolis. Photo: John M. Livelsberger

Despite what’s going on in the world OUT in Michigan City is going to keep growing along with our LGBTQ community. We we first started we were just a Facebook page. Now you’re reading this on our website outinmichigancity.com. We’ve also started a podcast called The Bent Edge. It’s the Region’s first unapologetically gay podcast. Where as OUT in Michigan City is news oriented and serious The Bent Edge is irreverent and witty where no subject is off limits. So, to the over 1,655 people that ‘like’ or ‘follow’ us on social media, thank you, we hope you stick with us for the long haul, our story is just beginning.

Please give OUT in Michigan City a like on Facebook as well as The Bent Edge Michigan City only unapologetically gay podcast with new episodes weekly. The Bent Edge can be heard on Apple Podcast, Spotify and other platforms.

Coronavirus, The New New Normal.

A health crisis that could have been handled in a competent way at it’s onset, instead President Trump is carrying on the Reagan legacy.

I’m having a hard time finding balance. I want to be there for my community in a positive way during this health crisis but the other part of me is very angry. OUT in Michigan City has over 1600 followers on our Facebook page. People from all over the world have visited our website and we just launched our podcast “The Bent Edge.” I want readers and listers to be informed and entertained. I would like nothing more than to make people laugh or give someone something thoughtful to think about. I want to make people feel good no matter who they are. We would like to be a positive voice in the darkness. Yet, I can’t seem to get over my own anger right now and I don’t want it to bleed into other peoples lives and bring someone down even further. So, I’m going to get it out. I’m going to do what I always do, exercise the angry demon that invades my soul from time to time by writing it out.

President Trump addresses concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic.

One of the reasons I’m angry is because I just got into a war of words with a Trump supporter, which is not unusual. This particular Trump supporter did not like it that I called the president a “low life con-artist,” referring to his handling of the pandemic in which we find ourselves. This man was offended by my opinion of the president. He claimed, “That low life con artist has done more for this country since I have been voting than any of the other idiot presidents.” My knee jerk was to tell this person to fuck off which I kind of did, but my other reaction was this. I calmly explained that two years ago President Trump dismantled The National Security Council’s Pandemic Response Team. I then pointed out had the President not taken this action we may have been able to avoid the pandemic. He’s response was; “I am sure he thought it was just another worthless government agency collecting paychecks.” Really? That’s your defense of President Trump? I have no doubt that the government has overspent for agencies that we don’t or didn’t need in the past, but an agency that is in place to protect the health of the American people from a global pandemic is not one of them. The Pandemic Response Team is like your home or car insurance, you pay the fucking bill every month and hope you don’t need it. You don’t cancel it because your house has not burned down yet.

AIDS Activists protesting then President Ronald Reagan’s handling of the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s

I’m also angry because this is taking me back to the 1980’s during the onset of the AIDS epidemic. You notice that you don’t see a lot of gay men especially the older generation freaking out over this. I was a teenager in the 80’s and in my early twenties in the 90’s when AIDS was still a death sentence. Coming out of the closet can be scary, but in those days if certain people found out you were gay there was a good chance you would be made out to be a villain because of your sexuality. All the sudden people who didn’t understand what being gay meant thought that all gay men had AIDS. Lot’s of these men were beaten in violent confrontations or ostracized from there families. After being diagnosed many of these gay men were disowned and left alone to die. Can you imagine, alone in the hospital or worse in a back alley somewhere homeless and abandoned dying of a disease that no one understood and that had no cure. At the time this was “new normal” for the gay community. This new normal was all encompassing. Our government didn’t care that gay men were dying. 

President Ronald Reagan and his administration did everything thing they could to ignore AIDS. The government did NOTHING to help the sick. 39 million people have died of AIDS since the onset of the epidemic in the early 1980’s. Right now at this very moment everyone now knows what it’s like to be living with a virus that has no cure and coping with incompetent government leaders, and a current president that claimed during it’s onset that this pandemic was a hoax conjured up by political enemies. As I write this Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced that the state has had it’s first death because of COVID-19. Had the Reagan Administration did the right thing during the AIDS crisis, which was to protect Americans that just happen to be gay, whole communities may not have been wiped out. President Trump is taking us all down the same road that the Reagan Administration took the gay community down. I had hoped that road was closed forever. 

I can’t speak for the entire gay community I can only speak for myself. As a proud gay man, I don’t wish the gross incompetence, neglect and fear that our community experienced on anyone. COVID-19 IS NOT AIDS and some people will recover others may not. As with the AIDS crisis I blame the mishandling of this crisis on an incompetent president with no understanding or compassion for the people he’s supposed to be serving. No one deserves to live through this uncertainty once. Some of us are living through it twice, first with AIDS and now COVID-19. 

We will not get through this as a LGBTQ community or a straight community, we will get through this as a human community and when the dust settles and it’s all over we will hold those elected officials responsible. 

Be safe and be kind to each other and remember we will come out on the other side of this, hopefully as a better and kinder community.

Feeling the Love, at Michigan City PRIDE Fest

Michigan City PRIDE Fest isn’t just a party, it’s where you find your tribe.

The inspiration to start OUT in Michigan City came from a Religious Freedom Restoration Act protest march that I attended in Indianapolis in the spring of 2015. When I arrived I experienced first hand what a close nit LGBTQ community Indy had. The love and support in the air was so palpable you could almost touch it. I started to wonder why we could not have that kind of love and support in Michigan City and the rest of the Region.

Fast forward to January, 2018 when a group of people came together to form the committee for what would be the first annual Michigan City PRIDE Festival. It was my honor and privilege to serve on this committee. They say that nothing worth doing is ever easy. They were right, we worked hard and making this event happen took over my life as well as the lives of the other committee members. PFLAG, the host of the event, this publication, and drag entertainers Welcome to the Other Side, volunteers, and local businesses would all come together to make Michigan City PRIDE Fest a success. What a success it was. The committee expected maybe 400 people to attend and 2000 showed up.

As is turned out we filled a need, the community was hungry for a PRIDE festival and it was an amazing day. For the first time the LGBTQ community and our allies came together in Michigan City and in the region the love and support in the air was just as palpable as it was that day in Indianapolis. We made people happy and it was worth the blood, sweat, and tears we all poured into the event. 2019 festival saw 3000 people and now we are gearing up to do in again for 2020.

OUT in Michigan City was asked to help with the social media campaign this year and of course we jumped at the chance. This year is a little different though and I blame the toxic political climate and the up coming election. I’ve gotten messages on how straight people need a PRIDE event or why even have PRIDE in this day and age. Someone said that PRIDE should be reserved for the accomplishments in ones life not celebrating who they choose to have sex with, which is NOT what PRIDE is about. Despite the progress that the LGBTQ community has made in the last 10 years, coming out can be hard and in some cases life treating. Sometimes someone has to hide who they are to protect themselves both mentally and physically. Michigan City PRIDE Fest isn’t just an all ages drag show, food, entertainment, and vendors. Michigan City PRIDE Fest is a safe space you can come, let your hair down, or maybe put it up. It’s a place you can be yourself, even if it’s for just one day. It’s a place where you can find the resources you need for support, in a safe environment. It’s a place where you can find your tribe. Please join us on June 20, 2020 at the Guy Forman Amphitheater in Washington Park and feel the love.

If you need a safe space before June 20th then you as well as everyone is welcome to attend PFLAG monthly meeting the first Wednesday of every month at the Holdcraft Performing Arts Center, 1200 Spring Street, Michigan City starting at 6:30 pm.