Vice President Mike Pence‘s hometown of Columbus, Indiana, is set to hold its first LGBT Pride festival on April 14.
High school senior Erin Bailey organized the event in the historically conservative community, explaining to the Huffington Post that “even though Mike Pence is openly anti-gay, that doesn’t mean that all of us in his hometown are.”
Bailey appeared to be referring to multiple anti-LGBT stances Pence has taken over the years, including signing Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which opponents argued allowed discrimination against LGBT people; saying gay couples would cause “societal collapse;” opposing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; and rejecting the Obama administration directive on transgender bathrooms.
LGBT advocates have also criticized Pence, a self-described religious conservative, for his reported support of gay conversion therapy, pointing to a 2000 statement on Pence’s congressional campaign website where he noted that Congress should reauthorize a law funding HIV/AIDS treatment but “resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
Pence’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah, told PEOPLE in January that the vice president does not and has never supported conversion therapy. “The accusation is totally false with no basis in fact,” Farah said at the time.
Given all of this, it may come as a surprise to some that the vice president has said he’s “proud” of Bailey’s initiative in organizing the festival.
His press secretary told USA Today in a statement, “Vice President Pence commends Erin Bailey for her activism and engagement in the civic process. As a proud Hoosier and Columbus native, he’s heartened to see young people from his hometown getting involved in the political process.”
Bailey, who is organizing the festival as her senior project at Columbus Signature Academy-New Tech, says she’s hoping to promote a message of inclusiveness from Pence’s hometown.
“Most people would think that all of us here are also anti-LGBT,” she told USA Today. “But there are plenty of us who very much support the LGBT community and are members of the community.”
USA Today notes that Columbus is one of a few towns in the state that has added LGBT protections to city ordinances — a change made in 2015 after then-Indiana Gov. Pence signed the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act. After facing backlash from local businesses, Pence later signed a revised law that would prevent such discrimination.
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Pence has been in the headlines recently as he faces continued criticism for his overall record on gay rights.
Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon, who is openly gay, lambasted Pence in January over his anti-LGBT positions, specifically his alleged funding of gay conversion therapy. In an interview with USA Today in January, Rippon described Pence as someone who “has gone out of their way to not only show that they aren’t a friend of a gay person but that they think that they’re sick.”
Last Week Tonight host John Oliver also knocked Pence’s viewpoints in a bestselling new book about the vice president’s pet rabbit, Marlon Bundo, falling in love with an another male rabbit. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo — the spoof created by Oliver in response to a children’s book written by Pence’s daughter Charlotte and illustrated by his wife, Karen — has been outselling the original book in recent weeks.
Pence’s daughter later revealed that she bought a copy of the parody book, whose proceeds have been pledged to The Trevor Project and AIDS United.
“He’s giving proceeds of the book to charity, and we’re also giving proceeds of our book to charity, so I really think that we can all get behind it,” Charlotte told ITK as reported by The Hill. “It doesn’t have to be divisive. I think that everybody can come together over Marlon.”