UPDATE: On Saturday night, HonFest organizers apologized to Planned Parenthood of Maryland and invited the nonprofit to participate in this year’s festival. Full story here.
Well, hon, there’s one vendor who won’t be at the 2023 HonFest — Planned Parenthood of Maryland.
The nonprofit, which provides a range of low-cost reproductive health care services, including abortions, announced in social media posts that HonFest organizers denied its application.
“PPM was rejected as a vendor at HonFest, then told we could ask another vendor to share if we abided by a gag rule. We will not perpetuate silence and stigma of our services. Please enjoy photos from a time HonFest recognized us as a valued provider of health care and education,” the tweet read.
The group shared photos of volunteers from previous years in the requisite attire of beehive hairdos, cat’s eye glasses and leopard print, a nod to the midcentury working-class women for whom the festival is named.
It is not clear what gag rule was proposed to the organization in exchange for sharing a space with another vendor.
On Twitter, Mayor Brandon Scott wrote that the local branch of Planned Parenthood “stood up for families in Maryland for decades” and implored residents to “stand up for them.” He also called HonFest “a Baltimore tradition.”
“I hope they work to resolve this issue to include PPM,” he wrote.
The move triggered talk of protests and HonFest boycotts on social media, and led sponsors and entertainers to withdraw participation. Several Hampden business owners have rallied to support Planned Parenthood of Maryland, starting fundraisers and offering space at their table and even closing for HonFest weekend in protest.
“We want them [Planned Parenthood] to be present and know that they are welcome,” said Samantha Claassen, owner of Golden West Cafe. Her restaurant will donate a percentage of sales made from 5-10 p.m. next Saturday and Sunday. Like-minded businesses are making similar plans, she said.
Claassen said she has spoken to many shop owners who are unhappy with HonFest’s decision.
Local businesses are “very confused as to how and why this happened,” she said. “And everyone is happily, readily engaging in fundraising for PPM.”
Union Craft Brewing said it decided to pull its sponsorship “after careful consideration and reflection of our values,” and the brewery expressed support for “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,” the company wrote on its website.
Hampden vintage shop The Parisian Flea decided rather than donating the annual tiara for the Baltimore’s Best Hon contest, the store would auction it to the highest bidder on its Facebook page. The store will also close in protest during the festival.
“While as a business, we try to remain unbiased, we strongly disagree with this decision, and always want what is best for the community and providing those in need with healthcare is the obvious choice,” the store’s post read.
And aquatic dance troupe Fluid Movement has said it will not perform unless HonFest reverses its decision, according to a Facebook post on the group’s page.
A response posted on the HonFest Facebook page Friday night said organizers were standing by long-held rules 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,’” organizers said.
“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,” the post read.
HonFest also rejected other vendors, the post said.
Planned Parenthood of Maryland and HonFest organizers did not respond to requests for comment before publication.
Vendors who have already paid table fees are now in an “unfortunate position,” multimedia artist Matt Muirhead said. The controversy and talk of boycotts put his income at risk, he said. He doesn’t agree with the organizers’ decision.
“They need to read the room and see that people support Planned Parenthood in this town — heavily,” Muirhead said.
To show his support for the health care provider, the artist plans to design and sell pro-Planned Parenthood T-shirts at HonFest.
“That way people can still stand with Planned Parenthood and not boycott the festival,” he said.
Proceeds from the T-shirt sales will benefit Planned Parenthood of Maryland, he said.
Baltimore City Councilwoman Odette Ramos tweeted Saturday that she had been working with both parties to resolve the issue for weeks.
When Planned Parenthood of Maryland reached out to Ramos weeks ago to ask for her help, she said, her first reaction was “that’s crazy.” The District 14 councilwoman told The Banner she failed to broker a solution.
HonFest organizer Denise Whiting told Ramos festival organizers didn’t want “controversial vendors” this year, the councilwoman said.
Ramos discovered that nothing had changed about HonFest’s vendor rules from all of the other years the health care organization was allowed to have its own booth.
“It’s just unfortunate that HonFest moved in this direction. I would imagine that Planned Parenthood — come hell or high water — is going to be there anyway,” Ramos said. She encouraged HonFest attendees to support the health care organization.
Followers spoke out against the festival’s decision.
A Facebook user posting as 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?”
Reddit users on the r/baltimore page made a play on the event’s name showing support for Planned Parenthood of Maryland.
“Time to Runfest.”
HonFest, billed as a celebration of “working women who helped make this great city what it is,” has been an annual event since 1994, according to its website. The festival started by Whiting, former Cafe Hon owner, has grown through the decades and now takes up several blocks of Hampden’s 36th Street.
Last year, Whiting closed Cafe Hon after 30 years. Foreman Wolf Restaurant Group, the owner of Petit Louis Bistro, Charleston and other highly regarded Baltimore restaurants, is set to open a new concept in the space.
But Whiting said she planned to continue running the festival known for crowning Baltimore’s Best Hon.
This year’s event will take place Saturday, June 10, from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday, June 11, from noon to 6 p.m., according to the event page.