Reflecting on Evangelical Christians spewing hate at Shelbyville Pride

by Sophia Lee

Earlier this Summer I had the opportunity to attend Shelby County Pride Parade and Festival, which took place on June 26 at the Shelbyville Stargazer Plaza. The event was filled with queer folks and allies, vendors and entertainers alike. I had a great time, and would give the festival five stars–were it not for the hoard of pamphlet-wielding anti-LGBTQ+ church-goers that stood right outside the event entrance. 

Most Pride festivals in the South are met with resistance by the bigots in the area. So I knew to expect some sort of anti-queer presence; what I did not anticipate was the size and volume of that presence. Walking up to the event, I was immediately approached by several clearly closeted fellows, pushing the good word down my throat. My friend and I tried to scurry past them, but our path was blocked by a large stage and speakers that were almost as tall as we were. Upon the stage stood Jerry Dorris–a pastor who spends his weekends trying to instill fear and shame in young queers. 

Dorris’s church, the Reformation Church in Shelbyville, has a long history of aggressive anti-queer activity. Chip Hutcheson of Kentucky Today reports that this year the church sent letters out to nearby businesses and churches to “sound the alarm” about the festival, and to discourage them from supporting the event. The church posted similar messaging on social media, which raised safety concerns for the community and made people think twice about attending. Dorris claims to have received verbal attacks and even death threats from the community in response to these activities, but as of yet those claims have not been corroborated.

Despite the actual verbal and physical attacks that queer individuals regularly experience, Shelby County Pride organizers decided that the show must go on. But they did take extra precautions. “We’ve gotten away with being safe these past two years but, with how crazy the world is now, I just don’t know if I feel safe enough allowing a third event without having the protection and knowing for sure that I can keep them out of the event,” said Shelby County Pride administrator, Jessie Brumfield. In an interview with Louisville Youth Group executive director, Elana Rosenberg.

Brumfield elaborated on the resistance they have encountered from Reformation Church members, and the efforts they’ve taken to protect festival attendees from anti-Pride protesters. They created a policy making permits a requirement to hand things out at the event, so that any protestors who entered and attempted to pass out pamphlets would be immediately removed. Organizers also met with the church, hoping to neutralize Dorris and his followers (to no avail). Brumfield stated that the meeting was one of the most uncomfortable she’d ever attended.

On the day of the event, several security personnel did not show up. Hence the overwhelming anti-queer presence, and the oppressive volume of their protest. But the Shelby County Pride organizers aren’t backing  down.Currently they’re working with attorneys from Riggs Pippin & Bullock, PSC to determine what contracts are needed to keep Dorris and his followers away from the festival next year. They are also reaching out to larger pride event organizers (such as Louisville and Kentuckiana Pride) for suggestions. And finally, they are considering relocating next year’s event. One attractive alternative they are considering is the Shelby County fairgrounds, which in addition to providing better security (and more distance between the festival and the church) would offer more shaded areas, water sources, and even options for indoor space with air conditioning. Of course, more funds are needed to make this happen. 

If you’re interested in uplifting rural queer communities, now is your chance to make a big impact. You can reach out to the organizers via their facebook page to make a donation or ask about other ways you can help.