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Champaign community celebrates gay pride on and off campus

The+CU+Pride+Parade+takes+place++from+September+15+to+17.
The CU Pride Parade takes place  from September 15 to 17.

The CU Pride Parade takes place from September 15 to 17.

Brian Bauer

Brian Bauer

The CU Pride Parade takes place from September 15 to 17.

Megan Bradley, Staff writer

The University’s size creates endless opportunities for students to be part of something that speaks to them. Despite all the chances to find a niche, some students have a difficult time finding something that caters to their specific situation, or may have a hard time being themselves and finding their place on such a large campus.

The LGBT Greek organization is one of multiple organizations and local events geared to people of queer orientation both on and around campus. It hosts a multitude of queer women looking to find an RSO to cater to their situation.

On the local side, the annual Champaign-Urbana Pride Festival will be held Sept. 15-17.

C-U Pride has events including the parade, pride parties for teens and adults, multiple vendors and a family-friendly area complete with bounce houses and face painting.

“This is the biggest Pride yet for Champaign Urbana,” Josh Laskowski, C-U Pride Director, said. “We carry the title of ‘Downtown State Illinois’ Only and Largest Pride Parade.’”

On campus, there are many RSOs to help queer students find a safe place at the University and to celebrate gay pride. LGBT Greek is one of them.

Gay pride RSOs strive to provide LGBT students with a space where they are able to feel safe and have others around them who relate to their situations.

As a queer student, Lauren Engelhard, sophomore in DGS, found the support she was looking for on campus with LGBT Greek.

“Being queer, it can be difficult to find people that understand and relate to many of the struggles and challenges that you’ve overcome, laugh at questionable relationship decisions you’ve made and get what it’s like on a day-to-day basis,” Engelhard wrote in an email.

Joining an RSO specifically for queer students is not the only way to find support or ways to participate in gay pride events. The Counseling Center can provide support and help to students struggling to come out or those who are feeling alone on campus. They may encourage joining a group such as LGBT Greek or Rainbow International, a pride organization that caters to international students, but students can go outside of campus and find support at events like C-U Pride.

“In the past, we’ve had thousands from all over Central Illinois including Bloomington-Normal, Springfield, Decatur, Danville and Peoria,” Laskowski said. “The crowd from the major metros like Chicago, St. Louis and Indy continue to grow each year and we expect 12 to 15 thousand people this year for all the festivities.”

An important part of LGBT organizations is the support and encouragement that people involved receive in their individual coming out processes.

Kelsey Gow, senior in ACES, is also part of LGBT Greek and was aided by the organization.

“LGBT Greek definitely made it easier to come out to more of my friends and family,” Gow wrote in an email. “I found that being surrounded by like-minded women, who are comfortable with their sexual orientation, was very reassuring. This club was not only a support system during my coming out process, but they were also always there for me to talk about similar issues that most LGBT women experience.”

The communication aspect of these RSOs becomes an invaluable part of LGBT students’ experience on campus. The ability to communicate freely and openly with other queer students, while being completely true to oneself is something that a lot of queer students struggle to find.

Teresa Anderson, graduate student in FAA, was one of the students who initially had a hard time finding a place where she could communicate openly about her own experiences until she joined LGBT Greek.

“There are so many moments and experiences that I’ve never even considered discussing, not because they’re negative in any way, but just solely because I never considered that anyone would be able to relate,” Anderson said.

Pride events around campus can offer queer students a social calendar for fun events and entertainment, and some LGBTQ RSOs also work on social calendars for their members. The combination of Champaign events with specifically on-campus events creates an inclusive environment for everyone to feel comfortable in.

“Right now we are working on creating a community just as a first step to show people we are here and offer a place to come and find other queer people,” Anderson said.

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