C-U, are you ready for the streets to be covered in glitter? Are you ready for a rainbow explosion? Do you want to meet a queen? It's time for C-U Pride Fest 2017. This marks the 8th year for the Pride Fest & Parade in Champaign, the biggest LGBTQA+ celebration in Central Illinois. Drag shows, wild parties, crazy nights, that’s what Pride fest is all about, right? Well, not quite. CU Pride is about expressing yourself, but that’s just one component. I spoke with Josh Laskowski and Justin Johnson, about what C-U Pride Fest is all about, and what to expect this weekend. 

Josh Laskowski is the director and producer of C-U Pride Fest. Justin Johnson, former at large board member for the Uniting Pride (UP) Center, and is now an advocate, ambassador, and entertainment coordinator for C-U Pride Fest. Uniting Pride was founded in December of 2009 as a multi-service agency, for youth and adults, and according to their website, it's aim is to "support and promote human care, education, and community-building activities directed at furthering the well-being and development of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, community."

Smile Politely: What's Pride Week all about?

Josh Laskowski: Depending on who you ask, you may get a number of different responses, because it is different for each person! A little history will probably help. Gay Pride Month held in June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, where a group of drag queens and gay men, fed up with having their gay bar raided by the police decided to fight back. We hold Pride in September due other large metro prides in our area and due to the fact that we want to include students and staff from U of I. For me, Pride is a celebration to celebrate people...their sexual
orientation, identity, and the diversity in our community.

Justin Johnson: Pride Week is the opportunity for the LGBTQA+ community to come together and celebrate our unique and colorful lives. It is also an opportunity to raise awareness within Champaign-Urbana of the LGBTQA+ community and the difference we make with the coqmmunity itself.

SP: Why should the Non-LGBTQA+ community support this?

Laskowski: This community is so diverse. We have so many opportunities to engage with other people, other communities, and other ways of life, and this is just another
celebration. So why wouldn't they support CU Pride? This community does for sure. This event continues to grow year after year. The weekend long celebration has something for everyone! The phrase typically thrown out is: "There's something for everyone... From 8 to 80" and that is so true when it comes to C-U's Pride Fest & Parade.

Johnson: Why not? In my opinion, they should support the event because we are a part of the bigger community at large. There should always be support for an event that brings people together to spread love, awareness, and support.

SP: What makes the C-U Pride celebration unique?

Laskowski: Some would say C-U's Pride is smaller, the parade is more tame and there aren't as many events as Chicago or San Francisco or a larger metro area. I agree that is true. But we try very hard to have something for everyone and fit plenty of events in for everyone. If you are looking for evening entertainment, we have it for you. If you are looking for a day out with your significant other or with the family and kids you have something too. We have heard from teenagers year after year that they wanted a teen event, so we added that this year. It will continue to grow each year as we research new events and get more feedback from the community.

Johnson: Well, all celebrations are unique in their own way. I suppose this celebration is different because it is people coming together as who they are as people; who they live their daily lives as, and who in many ways are ridiculed by others who do not understand or agree just for simply being who they are. It's great that there can be a celebration of people just being who they are and who they want to be. That's not something you get at other celebrations.

Gia Gunn from RuPaul's Drag Race.

SP: Tell me about the drag shows.

Laskowski: 51 Main will host the official kick off party on Friday, September 15th. Doors open at 5 p.m. and performances start at 6 p.m. and include many local performances and a performance from Jade Sotomayor from RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 1. 

On Saturday, and new this year, there will be live performances in the Family Friendly Zone including our Family Friendly Drag Show from 4:50-6:00 p.m. with drag performances from Jade Sotomayor and local queens including Leiloni, Calexus, Dymond, Leggs, Assiannah, Xavi, Cado, Katterina, Karma, and Peach. Big Grove Tavern will also offer free face painting from 2-4 p.m.

Saturday evening we will also have a teen only event and teen only drag show. For adults on Saturday, at 6 p.m., planned entertainment will take place at the Official Pride Saturday Evening Party located at 51 Main and will include Gia Gunn from Ru Paul’s Drag Race Season 6, Pearl from Ru Paul’s Drag Race Season 7 and Boylesque with Ben D Mann from the Chicagoland Area. The line up has been posted here. Tickets can be purchased the night of, at the door. No advance tickets will be sold. General admission tickets are $10; tickets with seating are $15; general admission tickets with Meet n' Greet are $30.

SP: What other events and activities can we expect from Pride Week?

Johnson: Saturday has a Family Area with lots of fun activities for kids starting at 12 p.m. and a vending area to buy local goods, also starting at 12 p.m. The parade will begin at 4 p.m., hosted by myself and Calexus Carrington. Then many performances will taking place all around the downtown area. The main show will be at 51 Main and starts at 6 p.m. and goes until 2 a.m. Sunday there will be a fabulous Drag Brunch at City View to cap off the event, and it is a great time! Tickets are $30 with a breakfast buffet and open bar. They are available here.

Champaign-Urbana don’t miss out on this event! There’s lots for everyone: teens, adults, youths, and seniors. I have my rainbow tutu ready and I’m excited for Sunday Brunch with the Queens.

You can visit C-U Pride Fest's website for more information and updates on events.