C-U Pride Fest “bigger and better” than year before

Reca.Sto, a multimedia arts imprint band, performs at Champaign’s 2015 Pride Parade on Saturday.

By Lilly Mashayek

People lining Neil Street cheered as members of the Champaign-Urbana for Bernie Sanders group chanted “discrimination has got to go,” while they marched in Saturday’s Pride Fest parade.

The sixth annual all-day festival began with workshops and seminars at the Hyatt Place Hotel and Big Grove Tavern. There were tents and tables set up by 35 vendors and participants of the festival, including students from Urbana High School. Shauri Gonzalez, a 10th-grader at Urbana High, was there with her fellow students and the Urbana High School Gay-Straight Alliance.

It was her first time at the festival, and Gonzalez was excited to be there.

“They should have the festival twice a year,” she said.

Micah Heumann, president of the board of directors of the Uniting Pride Center of Champaign County, prefaced this year’s event as being “bigger and better” because the festival went on longer than previous years.

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“(The workshops) are a great place to go if you are having questions, if you don’t know about certain things and you want to learn more,” he said. “That’s the best way to understand our neighbors and each other is to learn.”

Some evening events included the C-U Comedy Show at Soma Ultralounge, Drag Show, Carnivale Debauche and live music by the vendor tents. There was also a Drag Brunch the following morning.

Last year 24 groups participated in the festival. This year, 40 groups — each containing 20 to 50 members — marched in the parade. Parade participants included a broad range of people: from TV personalities such as Jade Sotomayor from RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 1, to local groups like the Twin City Derby Girls to campus members such as the Chancellor and Provost Committee on LGBTQ Concerns.

Kevin Garcia and Alexis Funk, both from Urbana, were volunteers helping with the parade this year.

“We’re volunteering to help with the parade, but even if we didn’t volunteer we would have shown up anyways,” Garcia said.

The community-voted theme of “Love Wins” was prevalent throughout the festival and featured on T-shirts and signs. Funk said she felt the atmosphere of the festival was friendly and inviting.

“For students that are wanting to know about the community — this is a great way to blend the U. of I. students with the community,” Huemann said.

Heumann said the Champaign-Urbana community is becoming more educated and more accepting of the LGBT community.

“It’s a great way to stand up with each other, for each other,” he said.

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