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River City Pride Fest debuts weekend celebration with increased safety measures

 Cassie Lucchesi, president of Peoria Proud
Jody Holtz
Cassie Lucchesi, president of Peoria Proud.

While Pride Month may officially be over, there’s still plenty of Pride events to attend this weekend in the River City.

The annual River City Pride Fest organized by Peoria Proud, the leading LGBTQ rights organization in Peoria, is debuting the first ever weekend-long Pride festival, beginning Friday, July 15.

Cassie Lucchesi is the president of Peoria Proud, founded in 2012.

“Originally started as a really small group of people that grew into a larger organization…it was just a group of people that were like, 'Hey, the LGBTQ group needs services.' … Our mission is to provide advocacy, education and social outreach in the Greater Peoria area,” explained Lucchesi.

One way that's done is through the River City Pride Fest that was put on hold the past two years due to the pandemic. Historically held as a one-day event, Lucchesi wanted to expand it this year to include a full weekend of activities.

“We always do a Friday night at the Chiefs game…and I was like, well, let's kind of make this a whole weekend…We've been working on it since February,” said Lucchesi.

With many festivities planned throughout the weekend, the safety of these large events is a big question many people are grappling with, especially after the Fourth of July parade shooting in Highland Park.

Also notable is the number of Pride events across the country that have been stormed and threatened by an alt right extremist group known as the Proud Boys. California, Nevada, Idaho, and Texas are among the states that have had Pride events disrupted, especially drag shows and story times for children — both of which are planned this weekend in Peoria.

“It is on our radar. We have security set up that will be attending the event. The Peoria police have been notified that this is happening, and so they're aware as well,” said Lucchesi.

In addition to increased security, Peoria Proud is taking matters into its own hands in an attempt to make the event a space where all free speech is permitted.

“We're actually planning on…roping off a section outside of Pride as like a free speech area. So if you want to come, you are welcome to stand in that free speech area and say what you need to say, and we've just been talking to people that are attending and saying ignore them. You're here for fun, you're here for community, and they're going to have an opinion that you might not agree with, but just ignore them keep going and do what you need to do,” said Lucchesi.

Lucchesi attributed this proactive approach to dealing with potential conflict as a result of a board that stays on top of current events.

“Safety has always been and will always be a concern that Peoria Proud has and will continue to maintain. We want our community to be safe. But we also want our community to have fun and participate in things that build community and meet people and get the access to information that you may or may not have,” Lucchesi said.

That information includes booths from Positive Health Solutions, the Peoria County/City Health Department, and others.

“Peoria City/County Health is going to have COVID-19 vaccines available at River City Pride and Central Illinois Friends is going to have HIV testing, as well as STD STI testing available at Pride,” said Lucchesi.

After a special Pride Night at the Peoria Chiefs on Friday, an after-party drag show will follow at Club Diesel in Peoria. From there, Pride Fest runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, July 15, on the Peoria Riverfront.

 The agenda for this weekend's River City Pride Fest
River City Pride Fest's Facebook page
The agenda for this weekend's River City Pride Fest

“Opening with the affirming faith communities, and a puppy parade because who doesn't love that…we're going to have three different drag shows this year, and so we're going to do a talent show with some up-and-coming youth and new performers in the area, and then we're going to do a local legends drag show, and that's really the roots of the community — where our drag started, where people learned from,” Lucchesi said.

The mainstage drag show of the day will feature Jasmine Kennedie, a previous contestant on the hit TV show "RuPaul’s Drag Race." Local food trucks, music, and 63 vendors will round out the experience, with a drag and paint brunch finale on Sunday at the Par-a-Dice Casino in Peoria.

“That's a ticketed event, and so then they'll have DiDa Ritz, who was also on 'RuPaul’s Drag Race,' performing with them,” said Lucchesi.

With a jammed packed agenda, family fun zone, and talent coming in from all across the country, the weekend is sure to bring a little something for everyone in the Peoria area, said Lucchesi.

“You can expect to see local organizations who provide services in the community. You can expect to see fun, face painting, people running around enjoying themselves…you can expect to see families out there enjoying themselves. It's just it's really going to be a wonderful event. I think there's been a lot of thought and a lot of planning put into it.”

For more information on River City Pride Fest, visit the event’s Facebook page.

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Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant program director, host of WCBU's newsmagazine All Things Peoria and producer of WCBU’s arts and culture podcast Out and About.