Group of people outside holding a banner that reads "Bans off our bodies"
Screenshot from Planned Parenthood Maryland's IG page.

Planned Parenthood of Maryland will not be part of this year’s HonFest, after event organizers initially denied them their own booth, arguing that reproductive and sexual health had become a “hot topic” issue that would distract from the Hampden festival on June 10-11.

Instead, Flaunt Hair Boutique will host Planned Parenthood of Maryland at their hair salon on West 36th Street. The reproductive and sexual healthcare provider will also share materials with information about their services to vendors and businesses who have offered to distribute them.

Planned Parenthood of Maryland (PPM) announced June 2 on social media that they were denied a vendor’s spot at HonFest this year. They were subsequently told they could participate only if they joined another vendor and abided by a “gag order” on the types of materials they could distribute and topics they could discuss.

Reactions on social media were swift, ranging from shock to anger on behalf of PPM.

Instagram user Ferrisislove wrote, “Don’t be shy, drop the board members names. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind being outed after making such a asinine decision”

IG user Sagnerj wrote, “The decision to not allow Planned Parenthood of Maryland to have a public space is a cowardice and disgraceful symbol of your anti community attitude.”

@honfest has always been a neighborhood festival for non neighborhood residents. Outside vendors are brought in to compete with neighborhood businesses,” wrote IG user balamont, who added a call to “#boycotthonfest.”

IG user thegothtoddler wrote, “We need to hit @honfest where it hurts and reach out to the sponsors. …‘Celebrating the working woman’ my 🍑🤬”

Local businesses reacted with a show of support and opened their doors, while vendors opened their booths, with offers for PPM to hand out their materials with no restrictions on topics discussed.

IG user Greco.20 posted, “@ppmaryland my wife @thespacewithinreiki and I are vendors (unfortunately now that we’ve heard this news). We would love to make space in our booth for PP literature and information to pass out to folks.”

Golden West Café offered to host a fundraiser during Honfest to benefit PPM.

“We would like to host a fundraiser for you all Honfest Weekend. 15% of sales Saturday and Sunday, 5pm-10pm”

Screenshot of Golden West Cafe's invite to PPM to use their space during HonFest
Screenshot of Golden West Cafe’s IG post.

The Greater Remington Improvement Association offered Planned Parenthood a starring role in Remfest, another neighborhood festival happening in September in nearby Remington.

@ppmaryland we’ve got an invitation for you! GRIA excitedly welcomes you to be at the center of Remfest in Remington in September, 2023. Details not announced yet but plan for mid month. Fees waived, please talk loudly about your services!” the neighborhood association (griabmore on IG) wrote.

Lauraville Fair invited PPM to be a vendor, too.

Screenshot of IG user inviting PPM to attend Lauraville Fair as a vendor with fees waived
Screenshot from bmore_mindful’s IG response to PPM.

On Facebook the announcement by PPM of their rejection garnered 187 comments and 243 shares, as of this article’s publication, generating a show of nearly entirely negative comments on the HonFest Facebook page.

HonFest responded with a copy and pasted response to nearly every comment:

“For 20 years, HONfest has brought smiles to young and old alike. HONfest has always had rules on their vendor form prohibiting “political, religious, and hot topic issues.” Since the overturning of the Roe V Wade decision, it has certainly become an issue which has led to some very unfortunate public incidences, and as such, it has become a “hot topic”.

“When PPM applied we respectfully stated that we would be abiding by those rules this year. Mr. Rahula Strohl, Public Engagement Manager for Planned Parenthood of Maryland, stated, ‘I understand that extremists have attempted to politicize the services PPM provides, but that does not make the services “political” or “hot topic.”’ HONfest understands the services are not, but in the interest of safety for all festival goers we chose to not have them attend as their own booth. We invited them to join the only non-artisan vendor, the Baltimore City Health Department, in their booth and use that space to promote women’s health issues like breast health, female related cancers and STD’s.

“PPM responded publicly with that post, instead of reaching out to us directly, to see if we could reach a decision that would have been acceptable to all.

“On another note, we also denied several other vendors that did not abide by those rules, as well.

“It is truly a sad day when a nationwide organization with billions of dollars at their disposal found it necessary to attempt to destroy one small neighborhood festival, whose only point was to bring love and happiness to everyone.”

They also posted it on their Facebook page as a standalone announcement.

Many accused HonFest of victim-blaming, cowardice, and ignorance. HonFest’s standalone post on Facebook garnered nearly one thousand comments, nearly all negative.

User Lauren Player wrote: “I can’t believe you would dismiss Planned Parenthood. They offer critical healthcare- lots of it- to lots of people. And you dismissed them. Cowards.”

User Kat Vary wrote: “Acting like the victim, HonFest? The multi-billion dollar organization you’re talking about provides necessary medical care – of ALL kinds – to poor and underserved communities. This is not some big nasty corporation picking on a plucky local festival, this is a necessary service being refused space at a festival where they’ve previously been welcomed. The problem isn’t them, or us for pushing back, it is YOU for caving to extremists.”

User Sheila Wells wrote: “You denied a health care organization. You denied a booth to a community service organization that supports women in your neighborhood. You are the cause and effect here. PP is not trying to destroy your festival, it’s that your bias is showing and you are rightfully being held accountable.”

Others argued that Honfest has a history of “co-opting working class culture.”

User Bengie Loveless wrote: “Honfest bans Planned Parenthood. Wholly Unacceptable. While already controversial and debateable as a co opting of Baltimore working class culture, especially since the founder of said fest tried trademark “Hon” a few years back, Honfest could still be a fun time and was once a welcome spotlight in the then reviving Hamden neighborhood. This latest move however is a final straw for me and I will not be attending or photographing this year.”

Another user wondered what other groups the festival might exclude.

User Traci Withani wrote: “When the court overturns Obergefell will you ask LGBTQ+ organizations to share a booth and obey a gag order, too? Is the escalation of antisemitism making the presence of Jews at the festival more dangerous? Or is it just women’s rights and those that support them you’re willing to throw away?”

Union Craft Brewing, one of HONEFEST’s major sponsors pulled its sponsorship in support of PPM. On June 3, their website posted a note saying, “After careful consideration and reflection of our values, we have decided to withdraw our sponsorship. It is important for us to align ourselves with events that uphold principles of equality, respect, and the right to comprehensive healthcare. We believe it is essential to support organizations that provide crucial resources and care to individuals in need. We will continue to actively seek out partnerships and events that share our commitment to fostering an inclusive and supportive community.”

Fluid Movement, a non-profit water ballet group posted that they had cancelled their planned performance for the festival, as well.

About a day after the pushback, HonFest posted a reversal of the decision on Facebook, and an invitation to PPM to return as a vendor along with a general apology.

Reactions to the reversal were nearly completely skeptical, accusing HonFest of insincerity and being motivated solely by financial loss.

User Jason Ward wrote: “I do love a good ‘find out’ phase. Won’t be there.”

User Dana Robinson wrote: “Didn’t apologize for accusing them of trying to destroy your festival, did not apologize to the person who was named and for lying about them not contacting you directly. This apology still lacks accountability and sincerity.”

CJ GonEast wrote: “Let’s be honest here, they did not listen to the community. They listened to sponsors who were pulling out. The damage is done. When people show you who they are, listen.”

PPM declined Honfest’s invitation, but will maintain a high-visibility presence near the festival in a different way.

“We are partnering with Flaunt Hair Boutique after they generously invited us into their space located at 827 W. 36th St. in Hampden. We will also have materials on our services available for the many vendors and businesses who have generously offered to distribute them. We will stand with Hampden as it has stood with us,” read PPM’s official press release, which was also posted on their social media accounts.

PPM explained their rationale for not accepting a vendor role as wanting to avoid the appearance of setting a “dangerous precedent,” which was sparked by the “initial refusal to accept PPM because it was a ‘hot topic’, then the suggestion that we ask another organization to partner with us – provided our outreach team abides by a gag rule.”

“Prohibiting us from mentioning birth control, abortion, gender affirming care and providing any information about family planning stigmatizes our care, and more importantly, the patients for whom we care,” continued PPM officials.

The statement by PPM thanked Flaunt Hair Boutique and all of the vendors and community members who offered support, either by offering them space to participate, hand out materials, or pulled out of the festival in solidarity with them. All of those businesses are listed at the bottom of the press release and social media posts, which readers can find here.