It took only 15 years for the Barbie Cadillac Pride Parade to grow from a couple cars of drag queens around Massachusetts Avenue to drawing approximately 100,000 participants and allies in downtown Indianapolis.
Gary K. Brackett, parade founder and business manager for the Indiana University Center for Bioethics, still gets goosebumps when he thinks about the initial struggles that led to overwhelming acceptance for the annual event.
"The first parade lasted maybe 10 minutes. If you blinked, you probably missed it," Brackett laughed. "I rode towards the beginning of the parade last year, and I turned around and couldn't see the end of it. You can't imagine what that feels like, when you started something that has grown that big."
The Pride Parade now rivals the Indy 500 Festival Parade in terms of size. The 2018 edition of the Pride Parade is set for 10 a.m. June 9 in downtown Indianapolis.
Since April, Brackett has worked remotely from San Francisco but flies back to Indianapolis often. On Sunday, May 13, he participated in the Bag Ladies Broadway Brunch, which raised $2,600 for the Gregory Powers Direct Emergency Financial Assistance Fund and featured an appearance of his Bag Ladies drag ensemble. On Monday, May 14, he revisited IUPUI campus just hours before his flight back to California. He met with students at the LGBTQ+ Center, which is leading the student representation at the Pride Parade and on the IUPUI campus as a whole.
IUPUI will have two booths at the event and dozens of students, staff and faculty members are expected to participate. The 2017 parade drew more than 70 at the parade, the largest turnout yet. For 2018, a decorated IUPUI truck will be incorporated in the parade with volunteers wearing "We are IUPUI" in rainbow lettering.
The event has become a celebration for all of the struggles, sacrifice, hard work and dedication to Indianapolis LGBTQ issues and programs.
"Pride started because we needed visibility," said Trevor Oakerson, a third-year student at the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law and president of the IUPUI Lambda Law Society. "We needed people to know that there was a community and the community was suffering. I think it's important that we recognize that.
"Now, we're transitioning from mere representation and mere visibility to institutionalizing our history and our traditions and ourselves as people who have really suffered, who paid the price to be a part of mainstream society."
Leaders at IUPUI view the parade not only as a celebration but as an essential recruiting tool and a symbol to show the university has a welcoming campus.
"We talked to a lot of folks who were in high school, looking at colleges, and they said 'Oh, IUPUI supports the gay community. Maybe I'll go there, where there are people like me,' " said Taylor Dooley, coordinator for recruitment and outreach for undergraduate admissions and interim director of the LGBTQ+ Center. "There was also a lot of excitement from folks already connected to IUPUI that saw us."
Wesley Stevens, a senior studying creative writing, worked an IUPUI booth during the 2017 parade. She is the LGTBQ+ Center's summer student ambassador.
"Even people not volunteering were hanging out because everyone knew each other," Stevens remembered. "They were just having fun."
Center of it all
This fall will mark the LGBTQ+ Center's third anniversary. Like the Pride Parade, the facility has grown quickly. It's become a fixture in Taylor Hall, serving the needs of students and working in concert with IUPUI LGTBQ+ Faculty and Staff Council and IUPUI LGTBQ Student Alliance.
Even though Pride occurs in June, Dooley is finding enthusiastic student participation, but the LGBTQ+ booth is still in need of volunteers and parade participants.
Dooley believes IUPUI's representation in the parade is crucial.
"I definitely see this as a celebration of all the work and history. It's a celebration of our unique community of resilience," she said. "It took so much work to get to where we are."
Some Indy LGBTQ history
In 2003, Brackett's ambition to form the first Indianapolis Pride parade came after attending a Pride parade in Memphis, Tennessee. It was simple: If a smaller city can put on a parade, Indianapolis should be able to. In 2003, Memphis' city population was 683,215 and Indy's was 868,576, according to the United States Census Bureau.
Seeds for success were already planted. A Pride celebration occurred successfully around the Monument Circle. Multiple downtown bars catered to the LGBTQ crowd.
But as recent as the 1980s, LGBTQ events came in the form of private events in hotel ballrooms.
"People were afraid to be out and be seen," Brackett said. "It took a few out-there people to decide they could have their faces be shown.
"People's attitudes have changed. When I was young, Paul Lynde on 'Hollywood Squares' was about as gay as you got. There was nobody on TV representing us."
Of course, this wasn't just in Indianapolis. The LGBTQ population has suffered tremendous persecution and adversity. It's only been in recent years where mainstream television and films, changing politics, and acceptance of events like Pride parades have brought a sense of unity. While the parade may have hit its peak in terms of exponential growth, both the originator and the future of Indy Pride predict the event will continue to promote -- to borrow from Elvis Costello -- peace, love and understanding.
"I knew the community would support a parade," Brackett smiled. "I think the event will continue to thrive as long as the community wants to continue pulling together, which is what I think Pride is all about."