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C-U community gathers to celebrate Pride

The 2023 CU Pride Parade kicks off with members of Uniting Pride of Champaign County dancing down the streets of Urbana on Sept. 30. Uniting Pride hosts the CU Pride Parade to celebrate members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community.

On Saturday, Sept. 30, large crowds of people gathered along Race St. and Springfield Ave. in Urbana dressed in rainbow colors to celebrate C-U’s annual Pride Fest.

The Fest, which featured more than 140 local vendors and a parade, was one of many events hosted last week by Uniting Pride of Champaign County.

Valena Hedin, the president of Uniting Pride and a lead organizer of the event, said this year’s Pride Fest was the most successful event they have ever had.

“It’s definitely our biggest fair so far,” they said. “We have had the most vendors that we’ve ever had, we’ve had a ton of parade participants, and we’re really excited.”

Erin Cleveland, who attended the event on behalf of the C-U therapy service Blueprint motto, said Pride is an opportunity for members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community to show their acceptance of each other and feel supported.

Though the month of June is traditionally recognized as Pride month in most places, C-U celebrates Pride Fest in the fall to allow the entire community, including U of I students, to be a part of it. Piper Pascarella/Illinois Student Newsroom

“I think it’s just really great to be here and support our community and see how we as a community and our culture continues to push for acceptance and inclusivity no matter who you are, who you love and what your body looks like,” Cleveland said.

The Blueprint booth featured a “Barbie box” for attendees to take photos, which Cleveland said was inspired by the messages of support, self-love and acceptance presented in Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” movie released earlier this year.

“We think ‘Barbie’ sends an amazing message to men and women and nonbinary folks,” she said. “We think it has upsides for everybody and lessons for acceptance for everybody. And I’m just saying, who doesn’t look good in pink, you know what I mean?”

Cleveland, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, said Pride has always been a large part of her life. In the past, she has celebrated in Los Angeles, Chicago and, this year, Champaign.

Uniting Pride President Valena Hedin said Pride is an opportunity to celebrate how far the community has come, and an opportunity to think about, recognize and make plans for the work that still needs to be done. 

“Pride started as a riot,” they said. “Pride was a cry for justice and awareness from the queer community who was being, not just ignored in our culture, but targeted by systems, targeted by police and being discriminated against.

The C-U Pride Fest, which featured more than 140 local vendors and a parade, was one of many events hosted last week by Uniting Pride of Champaign County. Piper Pascarella/Illinois Student Newsroom

“Over the years it developed into a celebration and an opportunity for queer people to come together and celebrate how far we have come. For me, Pride is really about finding community, reminding yourself that you’re not alone.”

Though the month of June is traditionally recognized as Pride month in most places, Hedin said C-U celebrates Pride Fest in the fall to allow the entire community to be a part of it.

“We as Uniting Pride chose years ago to start throwing our local Pride celebration in the fall so that our entire community, including the college students who come here, could be a part of it,” Hedin said.

However, the annual Pride Fest is not the only LGBTQ+ Pride-related event hosted by Uniting Pride in Champaign, Hedin said. The organization has and will continue to host events and offer LGBTQ+ related services and programs year-round.

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