New York City’s 1969 Stonewall Riots were arguably the catalyst for the modern Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Questioning (LGBTQ) rights movement, with drag queens at the forefront. In downtown Champaign on September 15, drag queens helped lead the UP Center of Champaign County’s 8thannual CU Pride Parade.
The parade, which bills itself as the largest LGBT Pride celebration in Illinois excluding Chicago, included waves of participants – businesses, politicians and church groups all showing their support for the LGBTQ community all walking the route and interacting with onlookers.
As a student journalist, I had the opportunity to cover the event with my camera. On previous photojournalism assignments, there had always been a voice inside my head that made it difficult to really get the shots I wanted. The current political climate makes going up to strangers and asking to photograph them unnerving to me, especially as a student. The voice says people don’t trust you, that you’re ‘fake news.’
Something about the parade – the people, the colors, the vibe – helped to quiet that voice.
By the time the first walkers passed, I found myself getting closer to the street. Soon, I was in the street with them. I was getting closer to people than I’d allowed myself previously. I was running in front of moving vehicles to get the perfect shot.
Looking back six weeks after the event, I realize now that I was in “the zone.” Completely comfortable with what I was doing, I didn’t care if anyone was watching or whether they approved.
I also realize how fitting it was that the event that led to this feeling of liberation was itself about pride and acceptance. For me, a white, heterosexual male, acceptance is not hard to find. For some in the LGBTQ community, the CU Pride Parade provides a rare opportunity to show their true colors in public.
The photographs that accompany this column were made by several student journalists in my class. Each image captures a different perspective, but they all represent some common values: hope, love, acceptance, and, most of all, pride.