Smile Politely

Community partners come together for “What the Health” Pride 2021

While it is still heavily debated who it was exactly that threw the first brick, it was three queer Black activists who were at the forefront of the Stonewall uprising: Marsha P. Johnson, Stormé DeLaverie, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy.

The impact and the legacy of those that defended themselves back in 1969 are still being demonstrated today. Pride has and will always be a celebration of oppressed peoples rising up against an unjust system.

Those involved in the planning of this year’s Pride wanted to be mindful of the current climate of the pandemic, while acknowledging the health disparities within the community that are directly linked toward stigma, discrimination and denial of their rights.

Hence the ever-relevant theme of “What the Health.”

In fact, the Grand Marshall of this year’s Pride Parade is none other than the Public Health Administrator of the Champaign Public Health District, Julie Pryde.

Those involved with the coordination and planning of Pride commended Pryde for her steadfast involvement, guiding us all through one of the worst health crises in history.

“’What the Health’ seems to acknowledge a bit of what we’ve all been through while also taking the opportunity to examine how this pandemic affected the LGBTQ+ community and how it compares to the AIDS epidemic,” explained Martha Mills, Board President of Uniting Pride of Champaign County. “This year is the 40th anniversary of the first diagnosis of AIDS in the U.S., and the way the disease was handled was a travesty. Having our theme highlight this is a way to memorialize those who died and to honor those who are still here.”

Photo from Uniting Pride Facebook page.

Uniting Pride of Champaign is a nonprofit that provides resources and support to the LGBTQ+ community in and around the Champaign-Urbana area. Other than planning and hosting Pride Fest each year, the team provides a variety of programming, support, and outreach all-year-long.

“We are really invested in making sure people have an affirming place to go,” said Mills. “This is incredibly important as studies have shown that LGBTQ+ youth are drastically less likely to be depressed or attempt suicide if they have even one encouraging adult in their life.”

With the suicide rates being what they are, this support is drastically needed. LGBTQ+ teens are more than three times as likely to contemplate suicide than their hetero and cis peers, according to The Trevor Project. Considering the isolation and mental health crisis that the pandemic has brought on, the presence of Uniting Pride is important — it is only the resource of its kind in the greater East Central Illinois region.

“We obviously put on Pride Fest but we are a lot more than that,” continued Mills.  “It is our hope to be a place of safety for every LGBTQ+ individual in our community and help ensure they are able to be secure in who they are and know they have support.”

The long list of services that Uniting Pride provides includes facilitating support groups; offering educational programming; guest speakers; hosting training workshops for businesses; and maintaining relationships and coordinating with other statewide organizations. Plus, planning the most colorful event of the year.

The events to be hosted at this year’s Pride promise to make up for lost time. Multiple community partners and businesses have come together to throw on some impressive events that will be hosted all throughout this week, until Sunday, September 26th.

“This year is all about partnerships and community organizations,” said Pride Fest organizer Nicole Frydman. “It has turned out absolutely beautiful, and I love to see it growing in that direction.”

These local partners and businesses include PYGMALION, The Canopy Club, Common Ground Co-op, NOLA’s Rock Bar, The Spurlock Museum, the UIUC LGBT Resource Center, CU Lockdown Trivia, The Trauma and Resilience Initiative, Carnival Debauche, and Defy Gravity. Not to mention, all of the local talent that are set to entertain.

With months put into the behind the scenes planning, Pride is much more than your average vendor fair and parade. There will be educational workshops, a trivia night, a clothing swap, and multiple performances. 

Those in charge have taken extreme care to make sure the events will be safe as it can be for its attendees. All our indoor events are vaccine and mask-mandatory, and even outdoor events require masks as well. “For the queer community, this health crisis is eerily familiar and traumatic,” expressed Frydman. “However, this is a community that understands the importance of caring for each other, risk mitigation, and still living a full life.”

Planners expect to have crowds, and realize that there is no guarantee that folks will be able to socially distance, so that’s why they’ve established the tight guidelines, to ensure public safety.

“Be prepared for an overwhelming amount of joy,” said Frydmon, “Pride is the best celebration in town, hands-down. People feel so good about who they are. That joy and celebration of self openly, that’s our special sauce. We fight to survive so we can thrive. Part of thriving is joy.”

C-U Pride is still looking for and accepting volunteers for its Pride events. The sign up list and calendar is available here.

If you are unable to attend any of the number of events, you can always support the nonprofit through donations or awareness. “If we can put people in contact with someone who will help them see themselves as beautiful and worthy, we will have been successful,” finished Mills.

You find the full schedule of Pride Fest events at the Uniting Pride website. Some events require preregistration or a ticket purchased in advance. 

Top photo by Eric Frahm.

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