Champaign-Urbana’s 9th annual PrideFest is happening this weekend, with major events like educational panels, a drag show, the Drag Brunch, and of course the Pride Parade happening throughout. To preview these events and get a behind-the-scenes look at the fun ahead, I got in touch with Nathan Alexander and William Blanchard, both PrideFest planning committee members on the UP Center Board of Directors.

“Coming from a small town, C-U is the ‘big city’ to me,” said Blanchard. “I am continually amazed at how welcoming our community has been during previous PrideFests, and in general. I am proud that this PrideFest has grown into the largest statewide celebration outside of Chicago.”

Part of that growth has been the addition of more business sponsors and events this year. “Downtown has done a wonderful job of welcoming the LGBTQ+ community, and we are grateful for the expanded list of supporters and sponsors of this year's PrideFest,” said Blanchard. One of this year's major supporters is the Orpheum Children's Museum, which will be hosting many of the family and teen centered activities, including a queer and trans clothing swap, as well as a teen after party on Saturday evening. New events will include a Drag Queen Story Hour, a program launched earlier this year by the Urbana Free Library and UP Center.

"PrideFest is a community event for all who would like to participate," said Alexander, “We are excited to include more people in PrideFest. We make an effort to include families and children in our events, as well as ensuring that our PrideFest includes all members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community.”

That support includes not just the Orpheum and numerous downtown bars and restaurants, but also churches. “Many welcoming and affirming faith communities have taken a leading role in hosting this year's events including movie screenings, donation drives, and parents offering hugs to LGBTQ+ individuals who have been cast out by their families,” said Blanchard.

“Reverend Leah Robberts-Mosser from the [Community United Church of Christ] has been a proud and consistent supporter of the UP Center over the years, and we're looking forward to her workshop on Saturday,” said Alexander. “The Bible has historically been used to justify discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals, but Rev. Robberts-Mosser's discussion directly addresses specific passages and translations in the Bible that target the LGBTQ+ community.”

Biblical Self-Defense for LGBTQIA Folks & Allies will be held at Big Grove Tavern during the Educational Panels on Saturday from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Robberts-Mosser said, “As the pastor of a church that has been publicly open to and affirming of LGBTQ+ people since 1995, it is both my duty and honor as an ally to equip people who are abused and battered by selective misinterpretations of scripture with this life giving fact: God made you, you are not a mistake; God loves you, you are worthy; your sexual orientation and gender identification are nothing less than gifts from God and God does not make mistakes.”

Additional panels will include presentations from CU Public Health, Equality Illinois, and the CU Trauma & Resiliency Initiative. Mike Ziri, the Director of Public Policy at Equality Illinois, will give a presentation at Big Grove Tavern on Saturday at 2 p.m. titled Policy and Advocacy: How to Create Change. “This is a fantastic and relevant talk for anyone who has an interest in legislation which impacts our community,” said Alexander.

With midterm elections less than two months away, the politics of the local community and event are also on the mind. “We are so excited that candidates from several parties will be represented at PrideFest,” said Alexander. “We look forward to further advances in protections for LGBTQ+ persons at the local, state, and federal levels.”

While PrideFest is a large event and celebration for everyone in the community, The UP Center does work in the LGBTQ+ community throughout the year through support and social groups, community-building events, educational workshops, clothing drives, arts festivals, political advocacy, and more. The increased sponsors and business support for this year’s PrideFest is a great encouragement to the organizers, who hope to be able to continue to build these relationships beyond just the weekend. 

“The UP Center is grateful for the continued support that we have received from the local community,” said Blanchard. “We are always looking to expand our monthly donor base via our website and create new partnerships with local businesses, non-profits, and service providers that wish to contribute to the LGBTQ+ community. As with any volunteer-run non-profit, our primary challenges are people and resources. We would look forward to developing relationships with local service providers and municipal leaders in east-central Illinois.”

Information on how to help support The UP Center year-round can be found here.

PrideFest is an amazing community event that can be experienced and enjoyed by the whole family. You can check out the PrideFest website for more information on the weekends' events. 

Photos by Megan Flowers