Central Illinois Pride launches as a companionship service and more for those needing support
A newly-formed organization is hoping to raise awareness about issues surrounding LGBTQ+ rights, domestic violence, and sexual assault within central Illinois.
Central Illinois Pride first emerged in January of 2022, but did not become an official not-for-profit organization until April of this year. Jacob Partee, chief executive officer and a founding member, says the organization's mission hits especially close to home.
“So me and my best friend, we’re domestic violence victims, and we kind of have noticed in the community of Peoria here in central Illinois that domestic violence is on the rise. There's a lot of domestic instances, and being a victim of that violence, we want to give back to the community and help others that have been impacted by that violence,” explained Partee.
While the group is still in its early stages, it already has begun making strides toward offering unique services in support of violence victims.
“So our services are more for companionship, being like a buddy system, someone they can talk to, rely on, vent to, go to court appearances with for emotional support,” said Partee, adding the group is actively working on obtaining approval for court advocacy.
After dealing with a particularly difficult court process himself, Partee said having an emotional support companion who is able to walk victims through the process while understanding their unique case is a big need in this area.
Additionally, Central Illinois Pride already offers a 24/7 text hotline for anyone to reach out to in times of crisis, whether it is domestic-violence related, anxiety, depression, or any other issue that may require support.
“Someone can text and it's a group number, so it goes to all of our phones, and once one of us responds, it stays with that person, so it's kind of a unique system. It is encrypted as well, so it’s very secure so nothing's going to get out of course,” said Partee.
He emphasized that while they try to gather some details, like a name and an address of the person texting, they don’t collect any information that isn't related to the direct safety of the individual.
“We don't try to collect a lot of personal details, just because we're not after that information anyway,” noted Partee.
Behind those phones is the rest of Partee’s team that works with Central Illinois Pride. Jade Slizewski is director of communications and advocacy. Alec Edwards is a chief community advocate, and Rebecca Partee is the business office manager.
In addition to court advocacy and the help hotline, the organization is taking a closer look at health care access in the area. The biggest need Partee said the group has encountered thus far is locating medical providers within the community that are LGBTQ+ friendly.
Through a partnership with the Center for Prevention of Abuse, the group hopes to compile a list of medical providers that LGBTQ+ members can feel safe and comfortable visiting.
“Someone may want a health care provider they feel comfortable with and can open up to. You want that safe barrier that says, hey, I'm an ally for you. I'm not going to be a judgmental zone, and provide judgment to someone that's seeking those kinds of services, such as STD testing, STI testing, asking for PrEP or maintaining a Prep prescription. So, it's kind of a big deal for some people, and we totally get it,” Partee said.
While judgment-free medical access seems to be a struggle in the area, Partee thinks most of Peoria is an inclusive environment, adding Central Illinois Pride also has many plans for the future.
Currently, the organization is working on organizing a transgender night for those who identify as trans. Their first big event is an ice cream social scheduled for Sept. 20 at the Ice Cream Shack in Sunnyland to speak out against domestic violence.
“Some of our local leaders will be joining us. We’ve so far invited the chief of police of Washington, Mike McCoy. We've invited the Center for Prevention of Abuse. We've invited the East Peoria police department, some of the East Peoria officials. We've invited (state) Sen. Dave Koehler…to gather feedback, you know, people say…services may not be met, and providing that feedback to those local leaders we feel is important so they can make that change,” Partee said.
Before then, the group plans to host a webinar with the Center for Prevention of Abuse at 11:30 a.m. on July 27.
Overall, Partee hopes the organization can serve as an information hub for people in need, or experiencing a time of crisis.
“Awareness for LGBTQ rights, domestic violence awareness, providing resources that people may not know exist such as an order of protection, stalking, no contact order, providing resources to the safe homes act…because it's like I said, so very important to us.”
For more information on Central Illinois Pride and all their upcoming events, visit their website or Facebook page.