CU Pride brings in the crowds, fun

Photos by Tom Wray

Champaign/Urbana brought the party this past weekend with their annual Pride celebration, one of the largest in Central Illinois.

The parade and festival were two of the caps to a weeklong celebration that included music, art, panel discussions and general fun throughout the twin cities.

Nicole Friedman, director of operations with the Uniting Pride Center of Champaign County, said this was the 13th year for Pride in the community. And people were coming.

“Last year was the biggest one we’ve ever had and this one… double? Triple? I’ve lost count,” they said. “It’s crazy.”

Friedman said they were “incredibly lucky” that there had been no incidence. Pride events across Illinois have become targets of far-right groups this year, including Decatur just an hour’s drive to the south. They said they hadn’t seen any hostility in the lead up to CU Pride, though they’ve have gotten grief this summer.

“We had gotten some in June for our June Pride programming,” Friedman said. “Some posts and threats, things of that nature. Either they’ve gotten stealthier or they just didn’t do anything with this event.”

Associate Pastor Sally Fritschy of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana/Champaign was giving glitter blessings to all who asked. They’d gone to plenty of Prides in Boston, where they lived before moving to Illinois. But C/U comes out looking pretty good.

“This town does it up right,” Fritschy said. “I think this Pride is really fantastic.”

They said a lot of people were coming up thinking that the glitter blessing was just a bit of fun, but there have been moments. “You look them in the eyes and say ‘You are worthy. You are a worthy human being’ and the tears just flow.”

Costumes were everywhere during the festival with the most popular look being wearing Pride flags of all kinds as a cape.

“I think Pride is really important because it’s a place, even just walking around, it’s a place where everybody can dress how they want, use whatever pronouns everyone is accepting,” Emily Glendy, who was attending her first Pride with their friends Jesse White and Celeste Green. “I feel safe here.”

“I know there’s a lot of issues, people say there’s gonna be adult content at Pride,” Green said. “Look around. There isn’t. We’re here to just enjoy being gay and loving people. That’s what matters.”

“The first Pride was an uprising,” Friedman said. “It’s pretty important we always remember our history. Since that time, Pride has turned into more of a celebration. And it absolutely should be because we have made so much incredible progress. But we still have so much work to do.

So, they said, Pride is not only a celebration, but a call to action as well. “2021 was the worst year on record in U.S. history for the most anti-LGBTQ legislation passed, and 2022 is on track to shatter that record,” Friedman said. “We got work to do.”