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80,000 expected at Saturday's Pride parade and festival

From hushed and humble beginnings, the celebration of equality grows every year in central Indiana.

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — From hushed and humble beginnings, the celebration of equality grows every year in central Indiana.

"1981 was the first gathering that we know of LGBTQ people formally and it was on the Circle at the Essex Hotel and people wore masks to go in because they were afraid of being seen. The next year it became a picnic at Windsor Park, said Indy Pride Executive Director Chris Handberg.

It has grown every year, but keeps a nod to the past — the picnic continues, held the weekend before the festival.

Years after that first gathering, LGBTQ entertainer Gary Brackett and others organized a small parade that consisted of one float, a couple of trucks and some local entertainers making a short stroll down the street.

It barely lasted 15 minutes, but they were on to something and would prove to be pioneers.

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Nearly 40 years later, close to 200 entries will be featured in the 2019 Indy Pride Parade, which begins at 10 a.m. Saturday at College and Massachusetts avenues, working its way down to Delaware Street.

It's expected to last more than two hours. Mayor Hogsett will participate, along with dozens of other companies and organizations. Click here for the complete list of entries.

At the height of the RFRA controversy, Republican Mayor Greg Ballard became the first Mayor to serve as grand marshal.

The Pride Festival opens at 11 a.m. Saturday at Military Park at White River. The layout includes spaces to relax and entertainment stages.

The celebration of equality does come with risks and leaders are prepared.

"We have about 400 to 500 volunteers who will work with us and we have been planning this consistently and weekly since January. We have a great cooperation with IMPD and we're working with the Southport Police Department and with Homeland Security to make sure all of our attendees are safe and we have lots of hydration stations where we're giving away free bottled water thanks to our sponsors and we have EMS on site," Handberg said.

One challenge leaders know they can’t overcome is the weather, something they learned in 2018.

"We don't really have a good attendance metric because of the storm last year that washed us away," Handberg said.

A heavy downpour and thunderstorm forced last year’s Pride to suspend activities for about an hour. They'll be closely watching the radar this year, too.

"We have a fantastic command center monitored by members of our security team so we will know if a storm is coming within an hour of it getting here," Handberg said.

The festival is expected to bring 30,000 people with 50,000 watching the parade for a total impact of 80,000 on Saturday.

"We see a lot more community and corporate support than we did five to 10 years ago," Handberg said.

That also helped land the entertainment headliner. Melissa Jefferson is Lizzo. She's a singer and rapper who isn't afraid to poke fun at herself. Her debut album came out in 2013, but this has really been her year.

"We had a great partnership with Radio One and we were able to secure her back in January and since then she's become a mega super star phenomenon," Handberg explained.

Her song Juice has become a hit among millennials.

You can watch her for as little as $5. Click here for ticket information and packages.

Brackett has since moved to San Francisco with his husband, but always comes back for the parade. After all, he gets a front row seat to the acceptance he fought so hard for so many to take for granted today.

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