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‘It’s not OK to hate’: Woodstock Pride celebrates LGBTQ community, love

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Thousands of people, many dressed in rainbow attire or donning rainbow accessories, gathered Sunday around downtown Woodstock to celebrate the Pride Parade and PrideFest.

Pride celebrations already had been underway in Woodstock, kicking off with a symbolic proclamation Tuesday, a fun run Saturday morning and bar crawl Saturday evening.

Kevin Funk and his husband, Justin McPheeters, attended the bar crawl and came back for the Pride festivities Sunday. Funk said it was the couple’s first time at Woodstock Pride as they moved to the suburbs a couple of years ago.

“It’s been awesome,” Funk said.

Despite earlier negativity toward Pride, the mood was joyful and celebratory Sunday with most attendees sporting rainbow clothing and/or accessories. The parade kicked off at 11 a.m. Sunday, with the floats coming on the Square about 11:15 a.m.

“I just love the fact that small town suburbia” is starting to accept humans, Gordon Fernstrom said at the parade. “People in the suburbs are getting the support they need.”

Fernstrom said that love and acceptance are what the world needs and expressed worries about hatred being on the rise. “It’s not OK to hate,” Fernstrom said. “Let people live their own lives.”

WGN-TV News anchor Sean Lewis, who was raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was the parade grand marshal, filling in for retired WGN meteorologist Tom Skilling. Lewis said Skilling was afflicted with kidney stones but was feeling much better.

Inside the bandstand was a poster that read “Woodstock loves Tom Skilling” with sharpies people could use to sign their names and send Skilling well wishes.

“I love you, Woodstock! Happy Pride!” Lewis told the crowd. He said he was 20 before he knew how to say the words “I’m gay.” He later said it was his first time serving as a grand marshal of a Pride parade.

“This blows me away,” he said.

Dozens of floats and participants waved rainbow flags and tossed trinkets such as candy and bracelets to attendees who cheered some of the floats, including a teachers’ float and an abortion rights sign from the National Organization for Women.

After the parade, officials, including Woodstock Mayor Mike Turner, City Council member Melissa McMahon and U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, addressed the crowd.

“You can be your true self and come out to your community anywhere in northern Illinois,” Foster told the crowd. Before speaking, Foster said he was disappointed he had to split his time Sunday between Aurora and Woodstock’s Pride festivities. Aurora’s Pride Parade kicked off at noon, according to the Aurora Pride Parade website.

McMahon, president of Woodstock Pride, said she is a “proud pansexual woman” and said that this year’s PrideFest was the “most successful” one the group has had so far. “We’re happy.” McMahon said, adding jokingly, “I need a nap.”

After officials addressed the crowd, performers took the stage and music filled the Square. Vendors and churches had booths on the Square that people could check out.

Velma Downes of Bull Valley handed out “Free Nana Hugs” at the First Presbyterian Church of Woodstock booth. The church was one of several churches and religious organizations that had booths at PrideFest.

Downes said it was her first time handing out hugs at PrideFest, and said early Sunday afternoon that she had given out 25. Downes said it was “fun to be here.” Some came in for side hugs, but most, she said, were coming in for full hugs.

The Rev. Eric Corbin, First Presbyterian pastor, said it’s his third time at PrideFest. He said that a couple of years ago someone asked if there was a church that accepted LGBTQ.

“People are sometimes surprised,” Corbin said. He added more and more churches are sharing God’s love with everyone.

To those who have been hurt by the church, Corbin said, “I would tell them, ‘I’m sorry,’” on behalf of the church.

Eli Tesfaye, who said he recently moved to Woodstock, attended PrideFest and brought his kids. “I think it’s incredible,” Tesfaye said, adding “I want my kids to learn tolerance and understanding.”


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