CU kicks off Pride Month with Drag Picnic

By Carolina Garibay

Pride month is here, and Champaign is ready to celebrate. This Saturday, June 5, LGBTQ+ folks and allies in C-U are gathering at West Side Park for a free Drag Picnic hosted by CJ Brown in partnership with Uniting Pride of Champaign and the Urbana Free Library.

Brown (or Karma Carrington, her drag queen persona) is one of the performers taking the stage Saturday. She said she was first drawn to drag after seeing her first drag show ever at Chester Street Bar, which was Champaign’s local gay bar. Seduction Carrington performed that night, and Brown said she was really inspired by her performance.

“Her performance was just so captivating and lively, and she’s so energetic, and I loved her dancing and her style and her confidence,” Brown said. “And then I was also having a lot of problems with my own gender identity and the ways that I wanted to present myself, so I thought that drag would be a really good for me to kind of experiment with femininity.” Brown said drag has also helped her become more comfortable with her gender identity.

Chester Street Bar closed in 2017, which means there is no longer a dedicated queer space, Brown said. She said that keeping events going hasn’t been easy, which also makes maintaining a sense of community among LGBTQ+ folks more difficult as well. That’s one of the reasons she wanted to host the Drag Picnic.

Brown also works in early childhood education, mainly with programming, and she said she had wanted to organize a kid-friendly drag event in the park.

“A lot of events are usually not family-friendly, so that was something that was really important to me and giving younger kids the opportunity to come out and enjoy and see people that look like them and present differently because I can only imagine how much different my life would have been if I would’ve met Seduction at eight instead of one,” Brown said.

The Drag Picnic is one of the first bigger events Brown has organized since COVID-19 regulations made hosting larger gatherings not possible. Though this meant there couldn’t be as many events, Brown said it forced drag queens to think creatively, like how to perform with masks and even incorporate them into their outfits.

“It’s definitely been a learning experience for us, but it’s just made us more adaptable and has definitely pushed us a little bit out of our comfort zone, which we probably needed,” Brown said.

But now Illinois is bridging from phase four to phase five, which Brown said has allowed her to increase the capacity of attendees at the picnic. Though there is registration for the picnic, Brown said anyone and everyone is welcome to come. Those who don’t register online will have to stay outside the taped area, which Brown said isn’t a huge deal.

Along with multiple drag performances, there will also be different crafts and goodie bags the Urbana Free Library is putting together, and the UP Center will be handing out informational resources with information about different support groups they offer. Brown also said she’ll try to keep people as spread out as possible, and all of the drag queens will be wearing masks.

If people cannot make it to the Drag Picnic or simply want to continue having fun, there’s also going to be a free Pride happy hour event at NOLA’s Rock Bar at 4 p.m. after the picnic.

“It’s a good networking event to kind of see what resources are out there for the community and just to get out and enjoy the good weather and have a nice kickoff to Pride Month so that we can keep that energy there even though times are a little hard right now,” Brown said.

The Drag Picnic is free and will take place this Saturday, June 5, from 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. at West Side Park in Champaign. For more details about the event and registration, visit the event Facebook page.