Uniting Pride promotes visibility and celebration, genuine social interaction, up-to-date referrals and community education
Uniting Pride was founded in 2009 as an organization to advocate for the equality, wellness, advocacy and visibility of the LGBTQ+ communities in Champaign County. For over a decade, they have been active in the county through support and social groups, community-building events, educational workshops, clothing drives, arts festivals, political advocacy and more.
Its mission: “To create a Champaign County where all who identify as sexual and/or gender minorities can live full, healthy, and vibrant lives.”
In the midst of June’s Pride Month, chambanamoms.com caught up with Zev Alexander — Uniting Pride’s Youth Program Coordinator — for a chat.
Q: What is available at Uniting Pride for kids and families in our community?
Before we started sheltering in place, Uniting Pride was offering peer social support groups for LGBTQ+ and questioning teens and preteens, for parents of LGBTQ+ folks of any age, and also hosting a play group for LGBTQ+ and gender expansive kids and kids of LGBTQ+ parents. We also host events for kids and families including Queer Prom for teens, a youth space and a teen space at our PrideFest, and Drag Queen Story Hour.
Things look different now, of course. Teen, pre-teen, and parent groups meet online (register and RSVP here); we just hosted our first virtual drag queen story hour with the Urbana Free Library. I miss Play Group very much, and I’m eagerly awaiting the day we can all hang out at playgrounds again!
Q: Considering all the work done at Uniting Pride, what are you most proud of?
I definitely have the most fun at big events like Queer Prom, but in my year and a half of working for Uniting Pride, what I’m most proud of is the growth in our programs for younger kids. So many families, particularly of transgender and gender expansive kids, are so desperate to have space to just play without having to defend themselves or explain anything. It feels so good to provide that.
This is a little less exciting from the outside, but I’m also extremely proud to have been on the team while we developed our 3-Year Strategic Plan during the fall of 2019. While COVID has thrown a wrench in the timeline a little bit, we’re still focused on our organizational goals as we work to create a sustainable organization that can continue to serve the community in years to come.
Q: What new programming would you like to develop at Uniting Pride?
I want to help steward some inter-organization relationships between Uniting Pride and organizations serving Black and Latino youth in our communities. To make our teen support group programming more accessible to LGBTQ+ and questioning teens of color, we need to build strong connections and host workshops, events, and meet-and-greets all over the community. In the next year (COVID permitting), I’d like to get our flyers up and meaningful connections built where youth who need us most are served.
Q: How can people in C-U get involved with Uniting Pride — participation? volunteering? giving?
Your donations mean so much to us; sustaining monthly donors are our lifeblood. We also need help spreading the word about our work: subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on facebook, and talk to your friends about us.
Q: Do you have any new quarantine hobbies?
I’m a big gardener, so I’ve been spending time in my garden and raising my chickens. I also channelled some of my hobby energy right back into work: Uniting Pride is proud to be participating in the Solidarity Gardens project, so I’m spending some really wonderful evenings working on what I call “the gayest little sweet potato farm in Central Illinois.”
Q: How does Pride Month look different this year, with the pandemic as well as with increased Black Lives Matter activities?
In C-U, our big Pride Celebration is in the fall. We know we’ll celebrate somehow this year, but we still don’t know what it’s going to look like. As for June, we’ve already held the Drag Queen Story Hour I mentioned above, we hosted a Biblical Self-Defense workshop, and we’re getting very excited for our Global Pride Virtual Cabaret show on June 27!
I think organizing and activism around Black Lives Matter is reminding white folks in the LGBTQ+ community just how much we owe to decades of organizing by Black queer folks and particularly Black trans women. Pride has always been about standing up for who we are — all of our identities and all the ways they intersect. At Uniting Pride, we know that it’s time to fundamentally shift what LGBTQ+ organizing and particularly what a Pride parade look like. You can read more about what we’ll be doing to keep ourselves accountable and to do our part in the movement here.
Zev Alexander (he/him/his and they/them/theirs) is the Youth Program Coordinator for Uniting Pride of Champaign County. We are grateful that he was able to take time away from “the gayest little sweet potato farm in Central Illinois” during Pride Month to answer our questions.