Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Pride Comes to Woodstock

It took a while, but Woodstock Pride Fest will bring LBGTQ Pride Month festivities to McHenry County this Sunday, June 9 from 11 am to 4pm on and around Woodstock Square. Not so many years ago that would have been unthinkable.  Most local Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and transgender folk stayed pretty much in the closet in a deeply conservative and hostile county.  There were no local organizations or safe social spaces.  Most churches were not only unwelcoming, but actively hostile.  People had to travel to Chicago for gay bars and clubs or to celebrate at the city’s long established Gay Pride Parade. 
How times have changed.  This year local festival is co-sponsored by Woodstock Pride, a two year old organization that held a successful Kid’s Pride event last year, the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce which is vigorously promoting the event, as well as several local businesses.   In other words it is a very big deal indeed.
The Festival announcement made to event’s goal crystal clear.
In keeping with the national goal of “mobilizing LGBTQ+ communities, our loved ones and our allies—with particular focus on those who have been actively silenced and neglected—in the fight to affirm and protect our rights, our safety and our full humanity,” the Woodstock Pride Parade/Festival will feature remarks from speakers representing a broad base of the diverse Woodstock and Chicago based community, including representatives of the Woodstock LGBTQ+ community and allied organizations that are actively pursuing equity, inclusion and justice for all people, regardless of gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, national origin or status.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for the entire Woodstock-area community to come together and share in the very human elements that unite us, while celebrating the differences that make us unique,” Woodstock Pride President Crystal Squires said regarding the event. “We are at a crucial moment in our national history, and the participation of so many organizations in this event will send a message, in self-celebration, that we are a community that stands together for all of our Woodstock residents, gay or straight, cis or trans, immigrant or Native American, regardless of economic standing, religious affiliation or place of origin. We unite as one community, and in solidarity with similar events taking place on the same month, in communities across the country.”
In addition to delivering a strong message of united community, the parade and festival will recognize 2 key anniversaries of the LGBTQIA+ communities; that of the Pulse Nightclub shootings in Orlando, Florida, which were perpetrated on June 12, 2016 and those who stood during the Stonewall Riots which occurred on June 28, 1969. The Woodstock Pride event will open with a moment of celebration and reverence for those who were involved in the Stonewall Riots, having paved the groundwork for future LGBTQIA+ generations and conclude with a special tribute and moment of recognition to those lives lost in the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting, one of the darkest moments in American LGBTQIA+ history. 
Run up to Sunday on the Square there will be several events including:
Thursday, June 6—Kid’s Pride activities at Mixin Mingle at 124 Cass Street at 10 am.
Friday, June 7—Dragon Fly presents an all-ages drag show at Mixin Mingle from 8-10pm.
A post show GLOW Party at D.C. Cobbs, 226 Main Street, at 10 pm.
Saturday, June 8—Bruncholgy: Queen Hosted Brunch at Mixin Mingle 10am-noon.
Buren Street at 10:30 am.
Woodstock Chamber of Commerce and Real Woodstock present Rockstock featuring The GooRoos on the Square from 7-10 pm.
The main event on Sunday will kick off with the Pride Parade around the Square at 11 am followed by the festival program from the Gazeebo stage featuring speakers including Congresswoman Lauren Underwood of the 14th District and representatives of Woodstock Pride, the Woodstock Chamber, the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Democratic Party of McHenry County, and others plus a wide variety of musical performers.
Representative Lauren Underwood of the 14th District will be a featured speaker at Woodstock Pride Fest.
Also on the Square festival goers can peruse information tables from sponsoring organizations, local non-profit and advocacy organizations as well as shop with vendors and dine from food trucks. 
The Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation Social Justice Team is proud to represent the long association our Congregation has had with the LBGTQ community and movement.  As early as 1970 the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association adopted a resolution opposed to the discrimination against Homosexuals and Bisexuals.  Although today it might seem like a bland appeal for mere toleration, at the time it was the first such public declaration by any national religious body with the exception of the explicitly gay Metropolitan Community Church. 

Since then a steady stream of resolutions and policies have gone far beyond mere toleration including recognizing an support Gay and Lesbian clergy, developing inclusive sexual education programs including About Your Sexuality (AYS) in 1971 and the more comprehensive Our Whole Lives (OWL) curriculum for all ages, pioneering in work to end HIV/AIDS stigmatism and promoting accessible health care, and inaugurating the Welcoming Congregation program to train UUA congregations in full acceptance of the LBGTQ community and certify them for public recognition.  The UUA became committed to full marriage equality and was a leading voice in national, state, and local campaigns to make it a legal reality.  It has expanded its welcome and advocacy to transgender individuals and other gender non-conforming folk.  It Standing in the Name of Love campaign, now recast as Love Resists in cooperation with the United Church of Christ, has taken to the streets in full public support LGBTQ rights and safety.
Our Congregation began its hand-in-hand journey with the local LGBTQ community almost than 30 years ago when it was known as the Congregational Unitarian Church (CUC) in Woodstock.  It began under the leadership of the Rev. Dan Larsen and the Social Justice Committee to conduct a public information campaign to counter AIDS hysteria that was running rampant.  At the time McHenry County Coroner Alvin Quarehammer was publishing screeds in the Northwest Herald claiming AIDS could be spread on airliners through the ventilation system and calling for Gays to be placed in quarantined internment camps.  We promoted the Red Ribbon campaign in the county and co-sponsored the first display of AIDS Quilt panels at McHenry County College.
The church building became a sort of sanctuary—the only safe place in the county for the Gay community and supporters to gather.  The informal organization that became McHenry County Pride and PFLAG held their meetings there and continue to meet in our new home in McHenry.  There was also an early counseling program for Gay, Lesbian and questioning youth and a program for transgender youth and their families is currently active at Tree of Life.
                              Tree of Life UU Congregation in McHenry is a long-time Welcoming Congregation

The Congregational Unitarian Church was recognized as a UUA Welcoming Congregation in 2004 after two years of diligent congregational education and work.  We have maintained that certification ever since.
The CUC was one of a handful of organizations conduct pilot tests of the first version of the OWL curriculum and has been offering the program once every two years ever since for junior high school age students. 
The Diversity Day Festival, founded and led by the CUC, provided perhaps the first public forum in the county to welcome full participation by the LGBTQ community and feature representatives on the program during its run from 2002 through 2013. 
We became public advocates for the Civil Union legislation in Illinois that became law in 2011 which gave couples some of the legal protection of marriage.  Meanwhile the church performed union services and stipulated that we considered them marriages.  When the Congregation moved to McHenry we became leaders in the campaign for full Marriage Equality.  In cooperation with PFLAG and others we conducted widely publicized road side vigils in several towns, conducted telephone and post card campaigns, did personal lobby-in-mass visits to the offices of a local state representative and senators, and participated in a mass march in Springfield.

Tree of Life led road side vigils for Marriage Equality.
The effectiveness of that campaign was shown when the legislation passed the House of Representatives by one vote—Democratic Representative Jack Franks who had remained uncommitted until the last moment and was thought by many to be leaning against.  The legislation was signed by Governor Pat Quinn on November 20, 2013 and became law January 1, 2014.
Tree of Life celebrated by conducting a public joint wedding of four lesbian couples weeks after the law went into effect—among the first in the County. The service was conducted by the Reverend Sean Parker Dennison, a transgender minister who served the congregation from 2012-16.  The church remains a safe and welcoming venue for all marriages.

Tree of Life celebrated marriage equality with a ceremony uniting four lesbian couples.
Since the first openly Gay man joined the church in 2002—surely there had been others long before not public with their identityLGBTQ folks have not only been welcomed into the community but have become an integral part of it participating in all aspects of church life and assuming leadership roles at all levels. 

And that’s why Tree of Life is proud to be part of Woodstock Pride Fest.

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