Pence’s welcome letter for LGBT festival draws criticism

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A letter from Gov. Mike Pence welcoming visitors to Indianapolis' upcoming Circle City IN Pride Festival is drawing criticism from both the state Democratic Party chairman and a conservative group, who are unhappy for different reasons with the governor's greeting to gays, lesbians and others.

Pence's letter addressed to festival organizer Indy Pride Inc., states, "On behalf of the people of Indiana, welcome to Indianapolis" and goes on to call the state a "destination for conventions, festivals" and other events.

But Pence's letter never refers to the Pride Festival or the diverse community the 9-day festival that begins Friday will attract, mentioning instead local attractions, including restaurants and theaters, visitors might patronize.

"We hope you enjoy your stay," the governor concluded.

In a written statement, Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said Pence's generic-sounding letter fell "way short of showing true Hoosier Hospitality" to the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender, or LGBT, community. He also noted that it "fails to mention the festival's existence."

"LGBT Hoosiers don't want to be directed to tourist attractions — they want to feel welcomed for being who they are. Mike Pence's letter is just another bland, ill-fated, and out-of-touch attempt at trying to restore his favorability after he nearly destroyed Indiana's reputation," Zody said.

The annual festival comes just months after Indiana faced a national outcry over a religious freedom law Pence signed in April that critics claimed would sanction discrimination against the LGBT community. Lawmakers eventually clarified that law after some companies banned travel to the state and some conventions threatened to cancel events.

Micah Clark, executive director of the conservative Christian group American Family Association of Indiana, said he was stunned that Pence had penned a letter welcoming people to what Clark called "this hedonistic festival."

"Why Governor Pence would welcome this at all, when not all events in Indianapolis receive a welcome letter from the Governor just boggles my mind, and it breaks my heart," Clark said in a written statement.

Pence's office did not immediately respond Wednesday to messages seeking comment on Zody and Clark's criticism.

Democratic state schools chief Glenda Ritz sent festival organizers her own letter Wednesday, calling the event "Hoosier Hospitality at its best." Ritz, who's expected to announce her gubernatorial bid Thursday, included a "Glenda Ritz for Governor 2016" letterhead on her message.

Circle City IN Pride Festival President Chris Morehead said festival organizers were glad that Pence wrote a letter, though he thought it could have had a stronger message.

"One can always wish and hope for more. It's definitely a step in the right direction, but some sort of statement saying welcome to the LBGT community at large, to all visitors, as well as to those in the state of Indiana, would have been a wonderful addition," he said.

Morehead said last year's festival attracted about 96,000 people over several days and this year's gatherings might rival that. The festival culminates June 13 with a parade and events he said should attract about 40,000 people.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican who backed the LGBT community amid the uproar over the religious freedom law, will serve as grand marshal of the parade, dubbed the Cadillac Barbie IN Pride Parade.

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