Teen Planning Gay Pride Festival in Mike Pence's Hometown Feels VP's Endorsement is 'Not Sincere'
High school senior Erin Bailey tells PEOPLE she "wouldn't be too nice" to Vice President Mike Pence
A high school student organizing the first gay pride festival in Mike Pence’s hometown says if she got a chance to speak to the vice president, “I probably wouldn’t be too nice.”
Erin Bailey, 18, who is planning the April 14 Columbus Pride Festival in Pence’s hometown of Columbus, Indiana, to celebrate and support LGBTQ people, tells PEOPLE she would speak her mind honestly if she ever encountered Pence.
“I would ask him why he feels the way he does about LGBT people and their rights, and his stance on women having rights to their own body,” she says.
In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, a spokeswoman for Pence said “Vice President Pence commends Erin Bailey for her activism and engagement in the civic process. As a proud Hoosier and Columbus native, he’s heartened to see young people from his hometown getting involved in the political process.”
However, Bailey called the statement “vague” and “not sincere,” “because of what I know he really feels.”
Pence, the former Governor of Indiana, is on record as being opposed to some LGBTQ causes.
He signed the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which opponents argued allowed discrimination against LGBT people; said gay couples would cause “societal collapse;” opposed the ending of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ban on gay and lesbian members serving in the military; and rejected the Obama administration directive on transgender bathrooms, which allowed transgender public school students access to bathrooms and locker rooms of their chosen gender identity.
Bailey, who says she realized she was bisexual when she was 15 years old, wanted to send a different message about Columbus, the historically conservative southern Indiana town of about 46,850 residents where Pence went to high school and where his mother, Nancy Pence Fritsch, and other family members still live.
So while other students at Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School had taken on assignments such as building birdhouses or organizing lacrosse practices, the senior decided to host the first-of-its-kind festival as her senior class project.
“I knew I wanted mine to really change the community,” she says. “I wanted to impact the whole city and make the LGBT community feel more welcome here.”
Bailey, who says her own parents are only just now learning through news reports that she is bisexual (“I didn’t want to sit down and tell them formally”), feels topics pertaining to LGBT people have “kind of been a hushed subject” around town.
The festival, taking place on 4th Street downtown, will include Pride-themed flags, necklaces, T-shirts and other gear, as well as face painting, a drag show and rainbow-colored s’mores.
“I’m not doing this in spite of him,” Bailey says of Pence. “But since he is from here, I want other people to know there’s a lot more to this town than that.”
Not all Columbus residents support the festival.
“I don’t believe that behavior is normal or appropriate,” says resident Amy Streeval, 44, of LGBTQ people.
While stressing that she wishes them no harm, Streeval, who’s married with four kids, said she doesn’t want them feted. “I would not want someone to celebrate any number of things I think are inappropriate behavior,” she tells PEOPLE.
But others from the city are thrilled.
“It’s about time,” says Andria Farrar, 49. “I’m so excited. I can’t wait to go,” says the married mother of two teens. “They should feel just as welcome as we do.”