The Public Works Department installed 70 rainbow banners along Madison Street, which created a stunning streetscape; Joana Fischer at Twisted Cookie baked rainbow cookies; and Connie Brown made rainbow ice cream, but what the 300 people who packed Constitution Court will remember is the show seven drag queens put on last Thursday evening.
As the crowd gathered and set up lawn chairs in the parking lot, the DJ pumped up the volume with disco music. Several teenage girls showed off their dance moves and residents greeted their neighbors and friends from out of town. One man wore platform sneakers with 5-inch rainbow soles and several women wore rainbow dresses
When the host of the show, Angel LeBare, appeared in drag, the crowd of SLGBTQS (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer and Straight) people in the audience responded with smiles, hoots and hollers. LeBare had responded to an interview question a week earlier by saying, “I am excited to be hosting the inaugural Forest Park Pride Fest. I hope the day will be filled with love and inclusion.”
She wasn’t disappointed, and the crowd was on her side.
The seven drag queens — LeBare, Fox E. Kim, Britney Taylor, Harlet Wench, Aleyna Couture, Mariela Duarte and Monique Greene — strutted their stuff. Audience members, including little kids, ran to the stage and gave the queens dollar bills. Some even busted a few moves with the performers.
A poignant moment came when Aleyna Couture danced to the song by Young MC titled, “Bust a Move.” Lyrics like “You’re on a mission and you’re wishin’ someone could cure your lonely condition … Looking for love in all the wrong places” put into words feelings everyone in the audience could identify with.
Before the performance, the drag queens had each gone to a business on Madison Street, including Brown Cow, Twisted Cookie, Jimmy’s Place, Fiore, Team Blonde, Play it Again Sports and MacDaddy Salon. At each business, people could chat with the queens, ask questions and get their pictures taken with a queen by Dexter Cura from Escape Factor.
The queen hanging out at Twisted Cookie was Harlet Wench who shared why she got into drag. She said even as a little boy she enjoyed dressing as a girl and going drag and performing is a like a refreshing break from reality which, as everyone knows, can be tough sometimes. She explained that each queen creates her own persona which informs how they dress and perform.
Erich Krumrei, who opened Play It Again Sports, a year ago organized the event for the village in just three weeks. “I was talking to the mayor,” he explained, “and at one point he brought up that they were looking to do some sort of Pride event, but he was in the middle of planning for Juneteenth, so I offered to do it.”
“Part of my business model and philosophy,” he added, “is to fully integrate as much as I can with the community. I met a guy named Dan Walsh who is part of a group called Art Reach, and he helped me plan, organize and coordinate an event for this year.”
Krumrei hopes the Pride Stroll, as he called it, will become an annual event in the village along with Juneteenth, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and German Fest.
Performance tables were set up, where information and swag were available for PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), OPALGA (Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association) and the Howard Brown Health Center, which provides “Access to LGBTQ-affirming primary care.”
The Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and local businesses participated in one way or another because they share progressive values. “Here at the Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor,” said owner Connie Brown, “we pride ourselves in our diverse organization and our strong stance on social issues, like diversity, inclusion and sustainability. Proceeds from the sale of our rainbow products go toward the Brave Space Alliance in Chicago — a local nonprofit organization providing resources and community for LGBTQ+ young people.”
They also participate because, frankly, it’s good for business. Any event that brings people to the street exposes them to the many unique shops in town. Business owners felt it would attract customers rather than put them off, because they have their finger on the pulse of the community. Forest Park has the second highest percentage of LGBTQ residents in the entire state of Illinois.
Krumrei reported that there were a few negative comments on social media, but the response leading up to the event had been overwhelmingly positive.
That the event was designed to be family friendly was evidenced by the number of children present in Constitution Court, posing for pictures with the queens and even running up to the stage to tip the performers.