Beth South: Okay, my name is Beth South and today’s date is July 17th, 2019, and to start can you tell me your name and where you were born?
Ben Guard: My name is Benjamin Guard. I was born in Richmond, Indiana, but I didn’t actually live there, that was just the nearest hospital at the time, obviously. I grew up in Williamsburg till about kindergarten and then we moved in the middle of the country, halfway between Lynn and Fountain City. So that’s kind of where I’ve been all my life.
BS: Okay. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? About your family or your interests or your school?
BG: Currently I’m in college at Ivy Tech, trying to get a Liberal Arts major because that’s pretty much everything that you can do in this world. Some of my hobbies and interests are just…This is a hard one to answer because at the end of the day, I have a very low value on what I actually want to do in life because I look at things that… I am in a position right now where the problems we are facing are so great, there’s very, very little time for me to be myself, which I completely acknowledge that is a terrible mindset and many a therapist later on in life are going have to deal with that one, but it’s just…I can’t sleep soundly at night knowing “Oh yeah, I had fun today,” well the planet’s burning and people are being killed for their existence and all of this. So that’s…If I had to say an interest, my interest is helping people, that I want to leave the world a better place than I found it, whatever the cost may be.
BS: When did you really identify with the LGBTQ community? Or do you?
BG: I do. I am… I identify as an asexual, aromantic, with tendencies towards being agender. Which basically means, I don’t really feel any real connection to anyone else, just kind of how that is. And the agender of life, I don’t if that’s the true definition for myself, I just acknowledge the fact that there are a lot of constructs in our world, you can go into toxic masculinity, toxic feminism, just regular masculinity and feminism. Gender can be a huge construct if you look at it in a very specific light, and I just realized I didn’t really care about that. So, I just act how I want, I behave how I want, I take care of my body in the ways I want to. With asexuality and aromanticism, I really noticed it early on, about middle school where everyone seemed to be getting boyfriends and girlfriends. Now obviously, this is middle school so that’s really not proper relationships or anything, it’s more just hormones and whatnot. And I wanted a relationship, not because I wanted to get anything out of it, but that was because what people wanted and that’s what everyone did. So that was a confusing time in my life where I was like “Hey, I’m trying to do all these things that everyone else is doing, yet I’m not enjoying it, I’m not getting anything out of it.” So then just small steps, being like, people talking about “Hey, that actor, what do you think of them?” or this person has these features that make them attractable to other people, and I was just…”Okay.” I didn’t really see that. And so internet research was kind of difficult because I didn’t really know the term, terminology at the time, and then I was just watching one of…a YouTube video and they mentioned the term asexuality and I was like “Hey, that kind of fits what I’m thinking.” And then it kind of all went downhill from there, just knowing the keystone, was able to put the bricks in place to find out where I am today.
BS: How open are you with other people besides friends or family?
BG: Well, this one’s a complicated issue. I’m actually more open with strangers and friends than I am with my family. It’s just a different in backgrounds. Everything I pretty much am exact opposite of my family, come from the country, I don’t like the country. Politically they’re conservative, I am…consider myself very leftist, so it’s difficult for me to think about how I would go about this conversation because to me, it’s easier for them to think that I’m just gay or different than to actually have a conversation with my family about my sexuality, and the fact that I’ve had this conversation many times with strangers, explaining to them that you can have a lack of sexuality, that that conversation with my family seems like a terrible thing to do.
BS: Are you currently involved with any LGBTQ organizations? Locally or otherwise?
BG: Yes. I am sitting president, um, primary organizer, we really haven’t had an official meeting to work out the terminology of Rainbow Richmond, which was an organization in Richmond that worked as a safe space and a meeting place for GSM – Gender and sexual minorities, which is the more accepted terminology these days, in Richmond and Wayne County. They had a disorganization in around 2008. And so my experiences as SAGA president at Ivy Tech, which stands for sexuality and gender acceptance, um, led me down the path of working with local colleges, into organizing a Pride festival, and we came across the term Rainbow Richmond and we kind of took the torch from there, reformed the group, and tried to do the best we can to make sure everyone felt safe. We just finished up our Pride in June, obviously. We had over three hundred people show up, which was great, and we’re continuing our programs in the community as we speak.
BS: Great. What led you to planning a Pride event?
BG: It was really one of those things, I often have moments where if I don’t see it being done, might as well do it yourself. And so that was really the driving force. I realized it wasn’t going to happen in the community, I thought it should happen in the community, so I did it. I worked with a bunch of people, made the connections, put blood, sweat, and tears into this, and we now have a Pride Festival, and a Facebook page with almost two thousand followers on it. So, this all happened within maybe eight to…six to eight months ago, and look where we are now, so.
BS: What did you envision for the event?
BG: That’s a difficult question because I don’t like modern Prides. I feel that they are full of, the term I like to use, Rainbow Capitalists. That they have the companies that change their logo for a month. They say “Yeah, go for us. Buy our alcohol because it has a rainbow on it. Buy these t-shirts because they say these things on ‘em. Support our company.” And so I didn’t want to do a standard Pride. I didn’t want what everyone else has done. I wanted an organization that was like “Okay, Pride started because we lived and currently still live in a country that wants us erased from existence.” Starting with the Stonewall Riots that this was a group of people who said “no more” and got organized. And that’s what I desperately want Rainbow Richmond to be doing in the future. That yes, it’s great that we have a Pride with concerts and live musicians, and drag shows, but we still don’t have equal rights guaranteed by our country. People can be fired the day after they come out, the day they get married, and that shouldn’t exist. That shouldn’t happen. And so that’s what I wanted Rainbow Richmond to be: A place where people came together and realized that we all are in this fight together. And only by us uniting as one, can we achieve the equality we so desperately deserve.
BS: What concerns did you have when planning for this event?
BG: Obviously, security is always a big issue. We received threats, from the Klan, from Nazis, standard ultraconservatives, religious zealots also got involved. And so, our main concern was “Okay, how do we protect people while also providing a safe space that felt welcoming?” Thankfully, 99% of the things we saw on the internet were just people who were talking behind a screen and not actually willing to do any action. And for the most part, I feel like that’s going to be the trend moving forward, although we always want to be careful of that 1% that is angered in just enough way, that has enough drive to actually cause harm to others. And so, that was really our main concern, trying to find a space that was open enough, welcoming enough, yet also secure enough that we could provide the best experience for everyone.
BS: Were you worried about backlash from the community? Or in particular, what about the city of Richmond?
BG: Honestly, my personal experience with backlash is very limited. I have very extreme views in most cases, and so I’ve…I personally have received backlash insulting me on everything from how I dress, how I act, what I say needs to be done politically in the world. And so, I’ve become accustomed to that, but my worry is that one person who’s hiding in the dark that I’m trying to shine a light on, saying that you’re not alone, sees just one comment that’s slightly aggressive or a bit of a harsh tone and then they run further into the darkness, and we can’t help them. So that was an interesting point brought up to me that my experiences and my attitudes that, you know, “We need to do this. This is a fight that needs to happen now,” can scare the people we’re trying to help the most. And so that’s a difficult balancing act that I’m still trying to work on now.
BS: Who helped you get the event off the ground and what roles did they play?
BG: Starting off it was a multi-geared project with the local GSM organizations of the colleges Earlham’s Spectrum, IU East’s Alliance, and obviously SAGA from Ivy Tech, working together, formulating ideas like, “Hey, this is what we need to do. I have this contact. I have that contact.” And just working together, finding a collective vision, and then putting it forth. However, sadly just because college students are busy, and working three jobs because we live in a terrible economy, not everyone is able to put as much time as needed. And so the collective kind of fell apart. And so it ended up just being me for a long time, but as I was working, “Okay, I need someone who knows music taste,” so I got that contact. Then I was like “Okay, I need someone in the city of Richmond who knows all these people and who I can talk to.” So, I got that developed and it was just one step at a time, finding the right person and then working together as a community to build this event.
BS: You were interviewed for the Pal-Item. Did they approach you? Or did you approach them?
BG: I honestly approached them, told them what was going on, and then they said they would come in for an interview. We talked for a good hour or two, and then that was our first article published. We were reached out, by other news organizations and then nothing ever panned out from that, but because of how, Pal-Item is connected in the USA network, we actually got stories published nationwide and even globally. So, that was quite impressive for a small town in Indiana, Mike Pence’s home state to be like “Hey, another town’s having their first Pride.” So that was very good.
BS: How did you advertise for the event?
BG: Facebook. Hands down, Facebook. We tried flyers. We maybe put twenty-five out there in the wilds of Richmond, and so that wasn’t really getting very much traction. But it was just Facebook page, getting one person to share it, and then two, and then four, and then eight, and so on and so forth until we had this massive group that we have now. I also worked with some local community programs that are vaguely in our grounds. IU East had a drag show, I spoke there for a few moments and really got people pumped up and officially announced that what we were doing. So yeah, it’s a 21st century project using 21st century means.
BS: Yeah, I was going to say that the Facebook page for Rainbow Richmond seemed to be this social media hub for the event. What connected you to Rainbow Richmond?
BG: Really it was just me and my experiences talking to the right person at the right time. Before I was even involved with SAGA, I spent a lot of time at the Historical Society, and with people who knew histories of Richmond, and I heard in whispers of a Rainbow Richmond. And so just meeting with the right people at the right time, working with Alliance at IU East, I actually found a student who had been in the workforce for a long time and was a member of the original Rainbow Richmond but came back for extra schooling and so that was a great firsthand account of like “This is what’s going on,” And a solid definition of who I should look to and then just connecting me with the right person at the right time, and just continuing a legacy that is there to help people.
BS: Jack Elstro Plaza is in the center of town. Was this your first choice for a Pride location?
BG: Not really. We thought someplace parks, obviously, so we looked into Glenn Miller, but there were some security concerns obviously because it’s easy for a person to disappear in a forest. And so, that was one thing we looked at. Richmond does have wonderful venues. We also looked at Starr-Gennett building but that has a huge cost to renting, in the thousand dollars for the first night mark. And so Elstro Plaza being a new location in Richmond, everyone knew about it. And like you said, being in the center of Richmond is really the best place to do it because if you’re going to do it, make yourself known.
BS: Is there anything you would change or do differently next time?
BG: I would need a place where I can guarantee performers can stay. We didn’t have a green room of sorts. Obviously, it was very, very hot, so we might look into shade booths, and those sorts of associated items. I would definitely have it longer. That was really the biggest complaint that it was too short. So, it’s every time we do something, we learn from our mistakes. So, it’s just there are all these dozens of little things that we didn’t think of, just it was one or two people thinking of ideas so we didn’t cover everything. And so, now that we have the community support and people are contributing, we’re able to think “Oh yeah, that’s a good idea, we’ll definitely do that next year,” or we’ll look into it if it’s feasible and whatnot.
BS: I was gonna ask if you, yes, if you felt that Richmond is a more accommodating, or is it going to be more accommodating to more LGBTQ events? Or more active community, I should say.
BG: One thing that most people don’t realize, is that this wasn’t a city sponsored thing. This wasn’t promoted by the government. This wasn’t an initiative by some bigwig who is a retired doctor who wanted to throw money at something. This was just a private event hosted by one person, technically. Renting a space that any person is able to do. So, I honestly can’t say whether or not Richmond’s going to become more accommodating or as a backrush from it because I didn’t get an experience from this event. All I know is that I filled out the right forms and they said “Sure, first you have to pay us.” And so, here we are.
BS: Where do you think the Richmond LGBTQ community is heading after this?
BG: That’s a good question. I try not to think too far ahead or make too definitive statements because I can’t predict the future. And so, all I’m looking for is a united front, that we all know what we want yet we’re not organized to the point where we can achieve that. So even if that means Richmond becomes a hub of the Midwest for GSM culture, that’d be great. If that means that we spend years petitioning the government to get this bill passed, or get this signed, or, celebrating the minor victories of a flag going up somewhere, I don’t know. All I know is that we have a goal ahead of us. That we want equality. Because at the end of the day, we’re all humans. And so, I’m going to try my hardest to achieve that for everyone.
BS: Great. Is there anything else you would like to add?
BG: I think that the best way to look forward inside the darkness, inside the hate, is that one step at a time. This is a long and arduous journey that we’re not even halfway there. But just one step in the right direction. Keep moving forward. We’re going to get there eventually or we’re all going to get to a point where it doesn’t matter. So just keep fighting for what you believe in because at the end of the day, no one else is going to help you but yourself. And so, just keep moving forward.
BS: Great. Well, thank you, Ben.