Pride Fest recognizes LGBT community

Lincoln Square Mall was a blur of rainbow colors Saturday as Champaign-Urbana residents celebrated the LGBT community at the third annual C-U Pride Festival.

The festival was sponsored by the Uniting Pride Center of Champaign County. Kevin Bowersox-Johnson, center founder and president, said the festival, which was held in Lincoln Square Mall, said the event was meant to recognize the contributions of lesbians and gays to the community.

“We live here, we work here, we play here — we contribute a lot to this community,” Bowersox-Johnson said.

He said the festival grew into a larger-scale event this year.

“Last year, we only had things inside, but this year, we have an outside part, including all kids stuff, a family fun area, outdoor stages and a foam party. These are all new,” he said.

The event featured live music on outdoor stages and family entertainment, including carnival games, inflatables and face painting.

For Kelly Turner, who attended the festival with her daughter, the family-oriented part of the festival was the most fun.

“We do enjoy the outside entertainment facilities for kids,” Turner said. “I brought my 22-month-old girl. She really enjoys the bouncing beds outside.”

In addition to outdoor activities, there were workshops, performances and information booths inside the mall. The booths advertised for various organizations and political campaigns, including the Urbana Free Library, Community United Church of Christ and Planned Parenthood of Illinois.

George Danos, Democratic candidate for Champaign County auditor, spoke at a candidate forum.

“Most of the questions were centered on those of LGBT concerns,” Danos said. “We discussed the training for the acceptance of gay people among teachers, firemen and policemen.”

The festival also featured drag performances, which were held at the Piato Cafe on Broadway Avenue.

“We enjoyed the drag show most, especially the Pound the Alarm show,” attendee Brandi Carlson said. “It’s fun and exciting.”

Justin Johnson, whose stage persona is Leiloni Stars, is a board member at-large for the center. Johnson performed and held a workshop for youth on how to do drag. Johnson said the art of drag can help people be more accepting.

“I believe this is all about connecting with people,” Johnson said. “It helps people to open their mind, to see different kinds of people. People are people. It doesn’t matter how you live, who you love. We are all the same. We are all here for this event.”

Kelly Jo Lamb, owner and chef at Piato, was one of the sponsors of the festival. Lamb said she wanted to share her values by participating in the event.

“My little sister is lesbian … (and) I think (the festival) is bringing people together. The UP Center is all about helping people come out,” said Lamb, as she teared up. “I know it’s tough out there; I saw my little sister go through it.”

Zike can be reached at [email protected]