Ashley Smith did not exactly think she needed strangers to pray for her the day before Pride Lafayette’s OutFest celebration downtown in early August, but she realized it was the only way she could get a group of protesters to leave her and fellow Pride members alone at the time.
The protest and backlash come as part of the job, unfortunately, for Pride Lafayette, the organization that has become the voice of the LGBT community and its allies in Greater Lafayette. Smith has learned to take it all in stride.
“They were trying to mess with us while we were setting up,” Smith said about the increase in the number of protesters at OutFest this year. “I had to stand in the middle of them while they prayed for me. It was wonderful. I have a thick skin.”
Despite the protesters, Pride Lafayette has continued to find increased acceptance. The Greater Lafayette Commerce’s Diversity Roundtable selected the organization for one of its DRT Diversity Leader Awards. The awards will be given at the Greater Lafayette Commerce’s annual dinner Sept. 17 at Purdue University.
Pride Lafayette will be honored with Old National Bank and the Wabash Center, along with an individual award winner.
“I think (the award) shows great strides for Pride Lafayette and the community as a whole, seeing that the Chamber is recognizing how much we’ve done for the community and all the hard work we’ve put in,” Smith said. “We’ve put ourselves out there, and we think it’s wonderful that they’ve decided to recognize us.”
It’s still not easy for Pride Lafayette members to stand out, even after seven OutFest celebrations, numerous events and their public, enthusiastic support for same-sex marriage in Indiana this year.
“To be honest, (Pride Lafayette) had to create a position for me because normally the media person is supposed to be the president of the organization, but we’ve had so many folks who don’t feel comfortable putting their face out there,” Smith said, explaining the hesitance of some members.
“I just happen to be very thick-skinned. I believe in standing up for what’s right. When we put ourselves out there, sometimes we get backlash and sometimes we don’t.”
In fact, everyone in Greater Lafayette should be grateful to have someone like Smith and Pride Lafayette in the community. When we talk about accomplishing the goal of making Greater Lafayette a great place for all people, it’s groups such as Pride Lafayette that will make the community live up to that promise.
Smith said Pride has been grateful for the support it has received from the community, including Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski and West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis. If we really want to make Greater Lafayette a welcoming place for everyone, though, we not only want, but need, Pride Lafayette. Hasn’t it been part of this country’s history to have such individuals and groups around to make us live up to the freedoms and rights that have been promised to us in the Constitution?
Those freedoms and rights have not come easy for many minorities in this country, but we all benefit when we all can celebrate the same justice, progress and liberty.
Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote in his letter from the Birmingham jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
We should all feel a little less threatened, and not more, because of Pride Lafayette.
Hughes is a member of the Greater Lafayette Commerce’s Diversity Roundtable.