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Louisville Pride Foundation’s outgoing leader describes the future of LGBTQ+ nonprofit work

Man in dark-colored polo shirt speaking on a stage into a microphone
Louisville Pride Foundation
Louisville Pride Foundation's outgoing executive director Mike Slaton at the 2019 Louisville Pride Festival.

The Louisville Pride Foundation, one of the city’s major LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, runs the city’s Pride festival and a community center. After five years at the helm, Executive Director Mike Slaton is leaving for a job with the Louisville Orchestra.

Slaton calls 2019 the only “kind of normal year under my belt.”

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and rhetoric, the Foundation launched the Pride Center, a community gathering place that provides connecting services, harm reduction education, support groups and recreational activities.

Slaton spoke to LPM’s Divya Karthikeyan about the evolving nature of LGBTQ+ nonprofits in a charged political climate, centering joy and how nonprofit leaders and organizers serving the community can meet the moment in an uncertain future for LGBTQ+ rights. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Tell us about the Louisville Pride Foundation. What were its focus areas when it first started, and how has that evolved over time? 

The Louisville Pride Foundation was formed in 2014. So next year is our 10-year anniversary, and it was formed around creating a new event on Bardstown Road, which has become the local Pride festival.

But from the beginning, we wanted to make sure we were more than just the festival, right? We wanted to do more than that. So we set the goal of opening an LGBTQ community center, because that's something that Louisville has not had, except for a brief period in the ‘80s.

And tell us more about the work that the Pride Center has been doing in terms of outreach to the LGBTQ+ community since it opened. 

One is to be a safe and affirming gathering place for LGBTQ people and our friends and family. One is to be a backbone organization for the community. So if somebody's trying to start a group or start something, we want to help them. And then the other is to be a point of entry for services, whether that's a food bank or HIV testing or financial counseling or mental health. We have some support groups that meet here. We have game nights, we do a lot of social and recreational programming. And that's one of the things we're really going to be expanding in 2024.

We've seen a major rise in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and threats to LGBTQ+ people, especially transgender communities across the state and the country. I'm curious about how the Pride Foundation’s strategy evolved and is still adapting to these seismic shifts in the political landscape.

It's an interesting question about whether things have really changed or not. We can say there's this seismic shift, and there's increasing attacks on the LGBTQ community.

But we've always been under attack, right? This is not news to anybody who's gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender — that there are people out there who hate us without knowing anything about us, who feel like we should have no place in American public life.

In some ways our work is to make sure people realize that there are still problems when they're not in the headlines. But for the Foundation … I like to say that we don't center the trauma. We're not here to only talk about the heavy topics and only bring people together around horrible legislation and things like that, we're here to find joy and help people connect with each other.

So you see that space for joy as a form of resistance in itself?

Yeah, just doing things that bring people joy, just doing things that let LGBTQ people be themselves without fear. That's a revolutionary act in and of itself, and continues to be. Hopefully someday it won't be.

In this very uncertain time for LGBTQ rights in the country and in the state, do you have any insight that you could offer from your time as executive director of the Pride Foundation for young organizers and nonprofit leaders who want to make a change or a difference? 

We have to show people the world that we're trying to build. And I think you do that through advocacy, you do that through the arts, you do that through social and recreational and educational programs, you know, things that bring people joy. But also things that provide resistance to those who would come after our community.

And you have to have all those things and you have to have a lot of different organizations and a lot of different people working together, and sometimes butting heads, and always working to figure out what's the way to move our community forward.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.

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