URBANA – For Uniting Pride board members and city residents, the organization’s annual Pride Fest provided an important safe space in the community for its LGBTQ+ members.
This year’s week-long Pride Fest lasted from Sept. 24 to Oct 2, with programming featuring nearly 20 events, including a Pride parade and vendor’s fair on Oct. 1.
Uniting Pride board member Brianna Gaspar said Champaign-Urbana is a great community to celebrate Pride and be part of the LGBTQ+ community, especially with the increasing amount of anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the U.S.
In 2021, lawmakers introduced the highest number of what queer activists call anti-LGBTQ+ proposed bills in recent history, with at least 17 of them enacted into law.
Gaspar said these bills reduce the number of safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people.
But, she said, celebrating Pride at events like Pride Fest allows the whole community to support its LGBTQ+ members.
“Showing up and showing your support for (Pride) really does show trans people and people of color and LGBT people in general that they’re being supported and that you are accepting, that you’re a person that they are safe to go to if they need help,” Gaspar said.
For University of Illinois alumni Emily Hogan and Colin Sullivan, attending the local Pride parade is a yearly tradition, with this being their third or fourth time.
The duo said Champaign-Urbana is more LGBTQ-friendly than their hometown in the south suburbs of Chicago.
“That was definitely a big factor in why we kind of wanted to stay here, is that there’s all kinds of stuff like this,” Sullivan said.”Pride fests and parades and all kinds of stuff like that. It’s nice to be able to kind of be a part of it more.”
Champaign resident Jennifer Anderson-Bliss attended the Pride fest and vendor’s fair with her kids and her mother, Ann Bliss.
Anderson-Bliss said she appreciates how supportive Champaign-Urbana is of its LGBTQ+ members.
“I think it’s fantastic that everyone can feel loved and safe,” she said. “I think that’s something that’s really important and something that I really appreciate about living here.”
Ann Bliss said she was also surprised by the size of the event.
“I live in California, and so we’re kind of surrounded by this all the time,” she said. “And I guess I didn’t expect such a large event in such a small town.
“So it’s really encouraging and it’s great. I love it.”
For El Dager and Alanna Hoye, Oct. 1 was their first time attending the Pride parade and vendor’s fair. The pair walked in the parade as part of Ippatsu Hair Salon’s float.
“I had a great time. We walked the whole way,” Dager said. “It was just great, great vibes everywhere.”
Hoye agreed, saying, “I loved how supportive everyone was, and I loved throwing candy. It was so much fun.”
Thirteen-year-old Evie Price, who attended Saturday’s parade and vendor’s fair, said she’s “really lucky” to live in a place as LGBTQ-friendly as Champaign-Urbana.
“This place and Pride are fun,” she said. “ I really like being out here and just being able to hang out with people who are all proud of who they are.”
She said growing up in Champaign-Urbana as a lesbian is just like “growing up as a straight person, except with the (Pride) flag.”