I’m so honored to welcome Jonathan and Jacob Balash to my blog. This couple continues working to bring equality awareness and acceptance to their community. I had the pleasure of experiencing my first volunteer day at the Spencer CommUNITY Center last week. My afternoon was filled with laughter and welcoming hugs. This LGBTQ+ center is setting an example for how a smaller city can still participate in equality and support for one another all year round. PRIDE is a state of mind and these two gentlemen are the embodiment of that concept. I want to thank Jonathan and Jacob for participating in this interview and opening their hearts to welcome me into our new found friendship.
How long has Spencer, Indiana had a PRIDE Festival and what brought PRIDE to your community?
Spencer Pride has hosted an LGBTQ+ festival in our small town for the past 10 years. The festival began as a community picnic hosted by our local PFLAG organization. Both Jacob and I were founders of the PFLAG and then eventually Spencer Pride as well. Why did we do it? We did it because our community needed it.
What does PRIDE mean to you?
Pride is about educating people about the LGBTQ+ community. It’s about freely expressing ourselves as LGBTQ+ people and allies. It’s about building bridges between gay and lesbian people and those of the broader community as well. Pride helps build understanding, cultivates healthy relationships, and makes our community a more welcoming place for all people.
What inspired you to open the Unity Center?
Having our own center is meaningful to us in many ways. One, it’s a highly visible presence in our downtown and helps to promote what we do. That gets more people exposed to our organization and gives us more opportunity to educate. Second, having the center gives us formal space for our meetings and it allows us to offer that space as a free service to other not-for-profit organizations. And finally, operating the Unity shop is a source of additional revenue for our organization. Oh, did I mention that we also just LOVE hanging out there?
Why does your community need the Unity Center?
The Spencer Pride CommUnity Center provides educational services to our community. It also helps promote local artists and craftspeople, in turn helping local businesses.
What types of services does the Center offer?
We are a certified Safe Place for youth in need. We are also an LGBTQ+ Safe Zone, providing information about the LGBTQ+ community to those within it as well as those who want to learn about it. Our center also will be providing free meeting space for local, affirming, not-for-profit organizations.
Can you elaborate on what equality means to you?
Equality is about respecting differences and ensuring that our differences don’t limit our rights. Whether a person loves someone of the same sex or of the opposite sex should not make a difference in who they can marry or where they can work. It shouldn’t impact the level of service that they get from a medical provider, or the housing opportunities that are afforded to them. By respecting what makes us each different and ensuring that those differences are celebrated, we can learn more about one another and make our community a better place than how we found it.
What suggestions do you have to open communication regarding equality and how to have a positive outcome in your community?
It starts with respecting one another. Every person comes from a different place – where they group up, the make-up of their family, their faith community (or lack thereof), their dreams and desires. If we approach each other understanding that, we are more likely to listen to one another and to build healthy relationships. Through those relationships, people come to understand the importance of equality for LGBTQ+ people.
Can you name several important topics in the LGBTQ+ community?
We share the same concerns as the broader population – caring for ourselves, our families, and desiring to fulfill our dreams for a better life. In addition, we struggle with discrimination on so many fronts, including in the workplace. Many people think that because we fought for – and achieved – marriage equality, everything is now resolved. That’s far from the truth. It will take many years to drive institutional and cultural discrimination out.
Jacob and I have been together for 15 years and have one son, Truman, who is almost 4 years old. We’ve been through a lot together. We’ve seen discrimination in the workplace, our neighborhood, and among our family and friends. We have never been afraid of a fight, however, and so we have done everything in our power to battle against injustice and prejudice. Spencer Pride provides a forum for us to do that in an organized, local manner. For Jacob and I, that’s very meaningful.
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