Smile Politely
Three women stand together in front of a neon sign that says "this is where the magic happens" smiling at the camera. They are wearing black t-shirts with a pride flag on them.
Bonnie Marrow

Pride is coming to Danville

When I think of locations for Pride celebrations, Vermillion County doesn’t immediately come to my mind. But in the heart of Danville, a new group is working hard to bring the LGBTQIA+ community a place that is their own. The Vermillion County Pride Coalition (VCPC) was established just a few months ago and they’ll be hosting Pride Fest as their first official event in Downtown Danville next month. The family-friendly festival will feature a dog parade, a diaper drive, music, and food and drink vendors. VCPC chair Vice President Bonnie Marrow met me at Obsidian Coffee to talk about how the organization came to be, her favorite moments from Pride, and why she thinks no one is ready for the Gen Alpha generation. 

Throughout our time together, I gained an appreciation for what can be achieved when a community comes together, and just how important it is to make space for people so that they feel like they have a place to belong. Pride Fest and VCPC are creating a safe space for people to show up authentically and feel accepted in a place you might not think of as that accommodating. And it seems like that resistance, that willingness to stand up and say, “we’re here, we exist, and we aren’t going anywhere” is a reflection of the spirit of Pride and the coalition itself.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Two white women are holding signs, one reads "the Bible can be your guide but not my shackle"
Bonnie Marrow

Smile Politely: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What do you do?

Bonnie Marrow: I’m Bonnie Marrow, a full time musician and tarot reader. I left like the regular nine to five world in February of this year. During that time, the VC Pride Coalition kind of came to fruition. Now I’m the vice president of the board. We are working towards a lot of community outreach projects and things like that. So, I write music, I read tarot, and I work on board things. Oh, and I raised three kids.

SP: Can you tell me a little bit about the VC Pride Coalition?

Marrow: Last year Lacey Miller, the CEO, and myself, along with another lady, put on a small Pride event in Rossville. People received it really, really well. And nothing like that had ever happened before. Lacey and I decided we were going to put on this event and we were gonna do it [in Danville]. But we pay for everything out of pocket, so we were trying to figure out how to build community support. We held a meeting and we talked about creating a board and creating an organization because we didn’t want it to just be Pride Fest. We didn’t want it to just be like, hey, we have one day and we celebrate and we’re done. Luckily, we got the right people in the same room, and the VC Pride Coalition was born from that. We have seen amazing support, and we have seen community coming together. Here in Danville, there is not a community for queer folk. We don’t have a bar. We don’t have a spot. We don’t have anything. Even just since the coalition has been around, which is literally, like, two months, there has been so much growth and so much opportunity. As unfortunate as this ordinance was, it brought more people together. And I always kind of joke that [LGBTQ+ people] are hiding under rocks in this red county and we don’t know how to signal each other. The VC Pride Coalition just put the bat signal up. Luck and need, that is what brought the coalition together.

SP: Where do you hope the future takes VCPC? Do you see yourselves having a space?

Marrow: I don’t want to speak for everybody, but for myself, there’s nothing more hypocritical than saying there’s a problem with something and not contributing to the solution. I know we’re all on the same page and we want to do some community outreach, we’ve talked about putting together an AA/NA group that is marketed more towards people our age — late 20s to early 40s — that is not religion-based, so that it can be more welcoming. We are doing a diaper drive at Pride Fest. We want to be able to share educational things, we want to make a positive impact in Vermillion County. We will eventually need a space, so it’s definitely on the list. 

SP: You are hosting the first ever Pride Fest in June. Can you tell me a little bit about the journey it took to happen, and maybe some frustrating and rewarding moments that you’ve experienced?

Marrow: First we had to figure out realistically what we could do with the time, money, and space that we had available. We had a couple of Zoom meetings with the UP Center. They’ve been a great support and help throughout this. We found that people really wanted to do pet parades. Then it was, you know, entertainment and space and how to do that. I had actually done, ”That’s What She Said” in Danville and met Janaea Modest who is C-U’s official Pride DJ. Once Janaea heard that we were doing this, she’s like, “I will be there, you just let me know when.” So we got Janaea, and we’ve had vendors signing up left and right, so many that we’ve had to now block the other side of the street as well. Right across from where we are is a bar called Vermillion River Beer Company. We didn’t have the money or the time to get a liquor license to sell there. So I called this gentleman in the midst of the Dylan Mulvaney BS and [said,] “Hi, would you set a bar up outside for me?” and he said yeah. Then I called him to see if we could use his space and he said, “of course, feel free.” Then I was like, “well, while I’m taking stuff from you, can I use that stage for an open mic?” And he said yes. So that, for me, was one of the coolest things because we didn’t know how downtown would respond. He didn’t even hesitate. Initially we struggled with the afterparty location. But then Sarge’s actually donated their banquet hall to us, which was more than we could have imagined. Now we [have] a very private place with a bar that we can decorate. Everyone can feel safe and welcome. The community has really come together to support us.

SP: With drag show boycotts, anti-trans legislation, and bills banning the word gay at school, from an outsider’s perspective, it seems like it’s a pretty scary time to be part of the LGBTQ+ community right now. Why is it important to have these celebrations in the midst of all that?

Marrow: We need to be able to come together and support each other and show people that we’re here, and there’s more of us than you even realize. And as much as we’ve seen the welcoming and the community coming together, I know there’s still much more negativity and stigma connected to it. Enough is enough. We need to be able to come together and show these children support and show other adults support. Because you get one life, and what is the point of catering it to someone else? [For Pride Fest] we have hired extra security, to make sure that things stay safe. We are aware that there are people who will be offended by us merely existing in a space, but continuing to be quiet has gotten us nowhere.

SP: What are the best ways to to support the LGBTQ+ community as somebody who is an ally, or as someone wants to be supportive but isn’t sure how?

Marrow: Anytime you can volunteer to help the coalition is a great way. So is supporting programs like comprehensive sex education. Whether you volunteer to pass out condoms or you give us ten extra bucks so we can pass out granola bars. Being an ally is a supportive role. It is a building up role and we appreciate it, and there are various different ways to plug in, depending on how comfortable someone is. With being a loud ally we try to respect where people are on their journey because coming down on them too hard just drives them the other way. Share a Facebook post. If someone is using a derogatory term towards the LGBTQIA+ community, call them on that. Be aware of the language you’re using, be aware of the kind of products you’re supporting. [The coalition is] just floored at the amount of people who will look us in the face and say how great and wonderful we are, and then be really quick to post a hateful homophobic meme or post. It is exhausting in 2023 because you have to go out of your way to make that choice.

SP: What is a big misconception about Pride events?

Marrow: Here’s one of my favorites. Last year, I made a post asking if Pride came to Vermillion County, what would you want it to look like? And there was one man in particular that stuck out to me, because he said, “No glitter or dildos.” Sir, there is not an occasion that does not call for glitter. First of all, okay, I don’t care what it is. But dildos? What did he think we were going to do? Did I keep a glitter covered dildo underneath the register with his name on it? You’re damn right I did. But it is this weird idea. Especially in small towns. Small towns are so scared that the big city will get in. You see these videos and clips from big cities (and there are family-friendly and then there are not family-friendly pride events), and people choose to vilify these things. It is this idea that Pride is about sex, and it’s not. It’s about personal identity and people can’t comprehend that. That to me seems to be the biggest misconception, that it is like a cesspool of just horny, gyrating bodies. But we’ve got educational resources, we’ve got WIC coming, and we’ve got the UP Center coming. It’s about building community, not about your gross, weird perversion. So I think that’s definitely one of the biggest misconceptions. Pride started as a protest and it has turned into a celebration. It’s still, at its core, a protest. But it’s not a sex party. 

SP: A lot of the hatred I see is behind this façade of “protecting the kids.” But I think that it’s so important for kids to be able to see Pride events and the support for that. And these family-friendly events that are happening, show them that they can belong to these places, too. Right?

Marrow: It reminds people that it is about identity. It’s not about hookups. It’s not about this weird perversion that they have heard from either behind the pulpit, or from their Facebook screen. It is, especially today, as a child — I have an 11 year old daughter — feeling accepted is harder and harder and harder. And under the guise of protecting children, they alienate and they hurt them. I don’t see the point, I just don’t get it. So we just want to help kids to know [that] it’s okay. It doesn’t mean you are all these negative negative things they say. You just are. You just are and it’s fine. It’s okay. 

SP: What is your best memory of previous Pride months?

Marrow: So, honestly, I haven’t celebrated a lot of Pride months. I grew up in a rural community up north. I can’t name anybody from our graduating class who identified as queer. So for me personally, it’s been kind of funny, getting with the coalition and being around people who are also members of this community. Being queer was never part of my identity so much because there was no community. Learning, just these little things, and finding people who appreciate the same things as me was powerful. And realizing that I don’t have to hide that. I’m a musician. Do you know how many musicians hate Cher? How do you hate Cher? And then I’m at a VCPC thing and someone said, “oh my god, we have to do all of the Cher,” and it was just like, there it is! These are my people.

SP: What will your role be during Pride Fest? 

Marrow: I’m the chair for the event, which I volunteered for long before it became so big. There’s a lot of stuff to do. But I really like operating under that kind of pressure and I love downtown. I’ve worked with a lot of these business owners through the newspaper, and there is not a mean or bitter business owner down there. I’ve seen the downtown community work together and come together to be welcoming and accepting and I’m excited to kind of see both of these worlds collide. Downtown Danville is one of my favorite places. I’m so glad we get to bring this down here and hopefully, we’ll see all of Vermillion County show up, that would be fantastic. 

SP: Who or what organizations are role models for the VCPC?

Marrow: Personally, I love the 60s and 70s, particularly the Civil Rights Movement. I like to look at the changes that those groups were making, the things that they were trying to push forward, the way that they made literal change for their communities, not by standing behind a podium and talking, but the things they actually did to create change. I like to draw from the women’s movement in the 70s. I like to joke and say, we want all Gloria Steinems no Betty Friedans. Knowing the history and just taking a little bit from various different civil rights groups and different civil rights movements, and applying that to what we’re doing is where we’re at right now.

SP: How do you plan to ensure that this group is a true representation of the diversity that is in Danville?

Marrow: We try to be super aware of who’s on the board and who’s not on the board. But it’s also self-accountability. We try to keep things very diverse. One of the things that we want to do is a bridge-building event to bring this downtown area and the east end area together. Because ultimately, whether you’re white, Black, or Hispanic, if you’re a woman, there are ways we can relate. If you’re queer, there are ways that we can relate. Queer People of Color have it twice as hard. But if we could bring that kind of togetherness across racial boundaries here in Danville and in Vermillion County, we can make a bigger change. It’s definitely a long haul long journey.

There are business owners in this county that have told me they’ve got queer siblings who moved away and they will not come back. But they are coming back for Pride Fest. Whether people realize it or not, bringing Pride to Vermillion County is such a benefit. Overall, it brings progress. And supporting as an ally, or, or whatever way you can, gives us more momentum to do these things. We want to bring this community together, even if it’s just Vermillion County and the whole world is still a shitshow. Cool. Let’s start here. Because if people keep leaving, we’re just gonna have more breezy towers all over this county. And I don’t think that’s what anybody wants.

SP: Anything else we should know? 

Marrow: Everyone is welcome. It doesn’t matter. We’ve got Christians, we’ve got witches, we’ve got everything. We’re going to have an open meeting after Pride for people who are paid members, which is $5. The money goes towards starting some of these community outreach programs and to start doing more things to get involved. We just heard from the inclusivity club at Salt Fork High School. One of our long term goals is to establish a Gay Straight Alliance for all of these rural high schools. And they reached out to us to volunteer the whole inclusivity club, so we’re gonna send them pizza to their next meeting, because we can’t come. We want them to know we support them. 

SP: I remember myself in high school. And I just wanted to fit in no matter what. So I’m always impressed by these kids who intentionally stand out and are able to say, “this is who I am, this is what I believe.”

Marrow: This generation alpha, Laci Miller and I actually talked about this a lot. We’re like, we have to make the change here now. Because this generation of kids doesn’t care about your feelings anymore. My daughter is of that mindset. I joked a couple years ago that I have messed up because my daughter feels like she can walk into any room be treated as an equal. She’ll look you in the eye and give you her honest opinion and she’s not slowing down. I’m really proud that the coalition seems to be really good at crossing generational barriers because nobody wants to sit still and look pretty anymore. It’s not working, it’s not ever worked. We are inclusive in that way as well. We want the enthusiasm of Gen Z we’re preparing for generation alpha; I know and recognize that that I’ve got five to ten more years before my life experience is not relevant. I need to give them the space to feel comfortable to come into these leadership positions — [it’s] not just me, the whole coalition understands this. We can’t fix everybody. All we can do is accept everybody and make space for them. 

Vermillion County Pride Festival
Temple Plaza
100 N Vermillion St
Sa June 3rd, 1 to 5 p.m.

Culture Editor