Nestled between the many rainbow flags, banners and t-shirts to PrideFest Saturday afternoon was a kaleidoscope of umbrellas.
It was a sign of how the weather wasn’t exactly cooperating with the event returning to downtown Springfield after a two-year absence. Nonetheless, thousands of people sheltered in the heavy rain before it all cleared up and had as much fun as possible supporting those who were just trying to be who they are.
Jonna Cooley, Director of Phoenix Center and one of the organizers of the event, said that even with the rain, it was good for people to come together and gather like they did before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s great to be back and providing chances for people to get out and celebrate and have a great day,” Cooley said.
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There was a parade and more than 80 vendors, ranging from area businesses to government agencies to advocacy groups, braved the weather to join in the fun. Cooley said they aim to try to diversify the types of events and booths that are at the event each year, even if the event is similar to what it was in the past.
“We just try to add more and different (things) and branch out every year so it’s not the same thing,” Cooley said. “That’s our goal every year – to change things.”
Event organizers say they try to find ways for people to have fun as a family, with all kinds of activities and music for people of all ages.
“It’s always been a family event,” said Duane Williams, event co-chair and entertainment coordinator. “All the music on the air is family-friendly, radio edit. Even on tonight’s drag show, it’s all going to be family-friendly.”
For businesses that have moved downtown to sell at least some of their wares, the event was a way to show people they value the LGBTQIA+ community and are aligned to support a goal. commmon.
James Goltermann, Southern Illinois Brand Ambassador for Ascend Cannabis Dispensariessaid it’s one of the company’s missions to try to support LGBTQIA+ people and have a major presence at events like PrideFest.
“It’s an integral part of our company goals to align with all things LGBTQ+,” Goltermann said. “It’s our second year as a sponsor (and) we wanted to do something fun this year, walk as many employees in the parade and show (our) face.”
Because state law prevents them from selling their products at the event or providing free samples, Ascend may show empty boxes of items sold at their two Springfield locations. Still, it was a major way for the company to support the community through LGBTQIA+ awareness.
“It’s literally in our backyard,” Goltermann said. “It makes sense for us to support the community and put on a good face. We’re a title sponsor this year (and) we’re super proud to be here.”
Cooley has served in his current position at the Phoenix Center for 16 years, seeing the evolution of LGBTQIA+ rights in Springfield and beyond in this time. So much has been accomplished for the community during this time, but Cooley knows there’s still a lot of work to do, even as PrideFest grows bigger every year.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes and a lot of improvements with (new) laws, rights and equality,” Cooley said. “At the same time, sometimes things change and sometimes they never change. We still have reports of people facing discrimination at work and school, so while some things are going better, others aren’t. are not.”
Contact Zach Roth: (217) 899-4338; [email protected]; @ZacharyRoth13