CU Pride Fest uplifts LGBTQ+ community


Brigida Dockus

Two drag queens ride atop a white convertible during the CU Pride Parade on Saturday. The community rallied together in support of pride while honoring AIDS history.

By Sydney Wood, buzz Assistant Editor

Festivalgoers flocked to downtown Saturday in rainbow-themed clothing and accessories as part of Uniting Pride’s annual pride fest, featuring a pride parade and vendors fair. 

This year’s theme, “What the Health? Fighting, Surviving, Thriving,” recognized the 40th anniversary of the first AIDS cases reported in the United States, along with COVID-19’s impact on the LGBTQ+ community. 

Crowds of people milled around the streets of downtown Urbana during the festival, visiting vendors’ booths, complimenting each other and taking shelter in the cool shadows of buildings. 

For high school sophomore Maddy Orliv-Frost, last week was her first Uniting Pride Pride Fest. She said her favorite part was the welcoming environment and that she looked forward to buying a pride flag. 

“It’s like you kind of don’t realize how many people in the LGBTQ community there are until you’re all gathered in one place,” Orvil-Frost said. “But it’s just really nice to see everyone.”

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Former University student Anya Kanevskaya said she didn’t expect to see so many people at the parade. She said her favorite part of the celebration was being outside, seeing people again and “having the energy of people being excited about life.” 

Jeremy Brown from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District was also surprised by the number of festival attendees, saying he didn’t realize there was such a big LGBTQ+ presence in C-U. 

The CUPHD was at the festival to promote HIV prevention, saying people should get comfortable with having conversations about safe sex and safe-sex practices. The CUPHD vendor’s table distributed educational materials on HIV and PrEP, which is a daily medication that dramatically reduces one’s chance of contracting HIV

After having a rough week, Casper Dowdy of Edwardsville, Illinois said they cried when they arrived at the fest. Dowdy said pride is a celebration of “who you are and where you’re from and finding community.” 

They said they enjoyed seeing the LGBTQ-supportive churches and older queer people at the event, saying it’s nice to see supporters from outside the LGBTQ community and to see the community’s history and its future.

“I feel like nowadays everybody treats the community as something that’s brand new,” Dowdy said. “But it’s so inspiring to know that we’ve always been here and we will always be here.”

Ramona Oswald of the Community United Church of Christ said she has been to every C-U Pride Fest. She said she loves seeing younger attendees at the fest and celebrating with a community of supporters. 

“It’s just wonderful to see middle school, high school and younger (children) just out and celebrated and have all kinds of affirming adults in their lives,” Oswald said. “It just makes me so happy.”

University senior Matthew Haak attended his second C-U Pride Fest last weekend. He said he had a great time looking at all the vendors, watching the parade and talking to people. He even bought a pair of rainbow-themed earrings that he safely stored in his shorts pocket. 

Haak said he was eager to see people out and about and being gay in the public eye. 

“I’ve had a longtime struggle with my sexuality and coming into it,” Haak said. “So I guess, for me now, pride is being able to express myself how I want without fear of judgment and just being accepted and loved by everyone around me for how I am. So, that’s pride.” 

University junior Soundjata Sharod said he and his friends accidentally joined the parade procession near its end and that he loved hearing the crowd’s cheers and feeling its energy. He said to him pride means truly accepting himself and that it “is more individual than what people make it out to be.”

He said pride is a sense of acceptance within oneself, including the way one presents and the different aspects of one’s identity. 

“You know, I think everyone needs pride,” Sharod said. “There’s so many people who are just unsure of themselves and their bodies and their minds or whatever, and I think this (pride fest) is a way to make sure that we can all be supported.” 

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