An Anderson nonprofit threatened to pull its support from this weekend’s Pendleton Pride celebration unless an event featuring drag queens reading to children was removed, forcing organizers to rearrange the story time plans to ensure the celebration could take place.
In a Sept. 22 news release, Intersect Inc. said it spoke to the Pendleton Pride committee and agreed to remain a sponsor “if the committee discontinues the queens reading to the children.”
“This is not something Intersect can support at this time,” the release read. “Intersect is a prevention agency. The mission is promoting, encouraging, and empowering our community for healthy living.”
It’s unclear why exactly the reading event prompted Intersect to want to back out. Intersect did not respond to a request for further explanation on why they wouldn’t support the event if drag queens were involved in the reading hour. Intersect was also a sponsor of last year’s Pendleton Pride festival.
The event, scheduled to take place noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 1 at Falls Park in Pendleton, is in its second year.
In a Sept. 23 Facebook post, Pendleton Pride acknowledged it would change its program by having LGBTQ community members host story time, not drag queens. The drag queens are still scheduled to perform a separate show at Pride.
“Sometimes progress comes fast, but most often progress is gained slowly and through intense conversations,” the post read.
The organizers explained that Intersect’s sponsorship included providing the insurance for the event, and there was not enough time to find a replacement. Without insurance, Pride could not go on, per Pendleton Parks Department rules. All events held at the park require liability insurance, Robyn Axel-Adams, one of Pendleton Pride’s organizers, said. Pendleton’s parks director could not be reached by IndyStar.
“We tried really hard to think outside the box and could we come up with some other things,” Axel-Adams said.
The group connected with Indiana Youth Group who aided in finding alternatives, offering to be Pendleton Pride’s insurance sponsor. But switching insurance companies last minute would have halted Pride altogether, Axel-Adams said, and they felt it was more important to find a way to have Pride.
“We didn’t also want the LGBTQ and allies community to feel that we had abandoned them that we had given up,” Axel-Adams said. “We fought.”
In statement, Intersect says its work has ‘no political agenda’
In a statement sent to IndyStar Thursday by Intersect’s Executive Director Karesa Knight-Wilkerson, the organization said it had much to learn from those for and against this event and its sponsorship. It’s unclear what prompted these additional comments, which mirrored a Sept. 23 post on the organization’s Facebook page.
“We are committed to further understanding all viewpoints regarding this as well as work with the LGBTQ+ community to educate ourselves,” the statement reads. “We are committed to our sponsorship and look forward to participating on Saturday.”
According to Intersect’s website, the nonprofit is a coalition of community stakeholders formed in 2002 to combat youth smoking in Madison County. Its focus has since grown to include combating alcohol and drug use among children. It operates with funding from two government grants: Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Agency (ITPC) and the Federal Drug Free Communities Grant.
The nonprofit said it viewed Pendleton Pride as a way for Intersect and other vendors to provide information on smoking and other health issues to the LGBTQ community, which the organization called “a culture that has been elusive to reach.”
“We must be equitable, meaning we have to support everyone where they are,” the organization said in its Sept. 22 news release. “It’s within the strategic plan to be involved with all groups and all that that may entail in order to provide prevention information on alcohol, tobacco/nicotine, and other drugs as well as mental health prevention messaging.”
It further emphasized that Intersect reaches out to all “with no political agenda.”
According to a study from the Office of Health Policy, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, LGBTQ individuals experience higher uninsured rates, are more likely to delay care or be concerned about medical bill cost and are less likely to have a usual source of care than non-LGBTQ people.
There is also a nationwide lack of health care professionals adequately trained in providing culturally competent care, the study noted.
Local church pushes for Pride’s end
At least one local organization has actively pushed for the cancellation of not just the story time but the entire event.
Life Church’s Pendleton campus put a call out to residents to oppose Pendleton Pride. Lead pastor Nathan Peternel verified a Facebook post from pastor Ross Steele asking for anyone upset with Pendleton Pride to join him at a Wednesday meeting held by the town’s Board of Parks and Recreation and voice their opposition.
“It’s really not a super shocking thing that people who believe in the Bible as the authoritative word of God would be opposed to such an event,” Peternel said in an interview.
The church is against sex trafficking and sexual abuse, Peternel said, adding that he was concerned about the children in attendance and that the event may be a form of “grooming,” a term often linked to abuse.
According to RAINN, grooming is a tool used by abusers to manipulate potential victims and coerce them into agreeing to the abuse. Nationally, misinterpretation of the term has been used against LGBTQ+ people, promoting an inaccurate stigma of inappropriate relationships with children in the community.
Peternel referred to homosexuality as “not healthy and not what God wants.” He added that all sex outside of marriage is a sin, and it was the church’s responsibility to remind the community of what is moral.
“That may sound archaic, but that doesn’t change God’s word,” he said. “I live in Pendleton, and I don’t want this here.”
Peternel said he was also concerned about “lewdness” in a public park.
At the board meeting Wednesday, Axel-Adams said members of the church did ask questions, but the parks board told attendees they have to remain neutral because it’s a public park. The event will still take place Saturday.
School district removed Pride flags
The forced changes to Pendleton Pride are not the first hurdle imposed on the local LGBTQ community in Madison County.
In 2021, students concerned over the forced removal of Pride flags from several classrooms at Pendleton Heights High School collected nearly 3,000 signatures on a petition asking the South Madison Community School Corporation. The district maintained teachers must remain neutral and not engage in political speech.
Reece Axel-Adams, whose pronouns are they/them, was a junior at the time and is the child of Robyn Axel-Adams. They told IndyStar in 2021 the flags helped classmates feel seen while at school.
“I remember walking by (a teacher’s) classroom, glancing at it and just being happy,” Axel-Adams said. “I knew we had an ally here at the school.”
They eventually spoke to the school board on behalf of the petition.
Superintendent Mark Hall stressed the district “celebrates all its students and does not tolerate harassment or discrimination based on any protected class” in an emailed statement to IndyStar in 2021.
Hall did not respond to an email inquiry sent Wednesday asking whether the district had an official position on either the drag story time event or Pendleton Pride as a whole.