C-U’s first pride parade celebrates community’s positive growth

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  • Pride parade participants march down Neil Street.

  • The cities of Champaign and Urbana have hosted the CU Pride Festival for five years, but this was the first year there was a parade as well.

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By Rebecca Jacobs

There was a sense of pride and cheerfulness in the air on Saturday in downtown Champaign.

People of all ages walked around the streets. Customers sat outside local restaurants to watch the parade. Kids picked up Tootsie Rolls and Dum Dums tossed from the floats, and rainbow flags covered storefronts on Neil Street for Champaign-Urbana’s first pride parade.

The cities have hosted CU Pride Festival for five years, but without a parade until this year.

“This community wasn’t like this four years ago,” said Micah Heumann, board member of the Uniting Pride Center Board (UP Center) and a co-facilitator for the University. The Uniting Pride Center ran the festival once again this year. “The festival is growing in a positive way. The community stepped up,” said Heumann.

Bud Light, a sponsor, started off the parade line, which had 24 participants. The Twin City Derby Girls roller-skated in the parade and familiar companies, like Kraft and Starbucks, brought their teams to the festival.

The participants were enthusiastic, dancing and singing as they moved along the street. Local organizations made appearances, such as Transgender Support of C-U, Planned Parenthood IL and Community United Church of Christ. Champaign Mayor Don Gerard rode through the parade in a convertible.

“It’s an absolute honor to be a part of this celebration,” Gerard said. “I’ve always felt Champaign has been such a wonderfully diverse and inclusive community. It’s wonderful when we can all come out and support each other and really have a celebration of all the people in our community.”

The parade traveled mainly along Neil Street and lasted about 15 minutes. People sat along curbs or stood, and cheered as parade participants marched and danced by.

“The pride parade is something near and dear to my heart,” said Debra Hart, 58, who came from St. Joseph for the festival. “I came to support my friends. And who doesn’t love rainbows?”

“This is awesome!” Carol Young, 58, of Champaign, exclaimed as the parade came to an end.

Local residents and people from out of town came for the festival. Grace Wilson-Danenhower and Alicyn Koontz, both 16, also came from St. Joseph.

“This is my first time attending,” Koontz said. “It’s really amazing, and I plan to come back for years and years and years.”

Like Koontz, Wilson-Danenhower had a big smile on her face about the festival, although she had attended the festival before.

“This is my third year coming. I’ve loved it ever since I started coming,” Wilson-Danenhower said.

While she loved the parade, she said was disappointed that this year the dancing and drag performances were held at local bars for people age 21 and older. Wilson-Danenhower said she enjoyed when the dancing used to be in Lincoln Mall in Urbana for people of all ages.

“I plan on going to C-Street (Chester Street Dance Club) for Carnivale Debauche tonight,” said Lucas Zimmerman, 27, from Westville. “I enjoyed the festival. It was all so good. I even got some beads.”

While the drag show was held at night, drag queens attended the festival and marched in the parade for all to see.

“I’ve never seen so much color and drag queens,” said Haorui Yang, graduate student in biotechnology. Yang is from China and was a volunteer at the Pride Festival this year.

Volunteers and members of the UP Center worked all day at the festival. Earlier in the afternoon, the UP Center members said they were pleased by the amount of clothes brought for the Trans Clothes Swap at the Hyatt Place. People were invited to visit and find clothing that matched their gender expression for free or with a monetary donation.

The Pride Fest website explained that “the transition process is a time consuming and costly process for many transgender individuals. Our goal is to gather clothing to help ease the burden for transgender people who may be early in transition and need some of the basics, or those who lack sufficient means to purchase all of the

clothing they may need.”

Workshops were also held before the parade. The free workshops covered topics including family law, learning how to belly dance, biblical self-defense, tolerating differences, sex education and HIV prevention.

The vendor expo ran all day in the parking lot at Neil and Washington streets. Some vendors sold rainbow flags and pride festival souvenirs.

Other booths showcased local groups, such as Makerspace Urbana and Backpacks of Love. Fluid Events sponsored a petting zoo and mini-golf area.

This year’s celebration was themed “Live. Love. Be.” and lasted from noon until late in the night at Boltini Lounge, C-Street and Memphis on Main in Champaign.

Rebecca can be reached at [email protected]