Naperville hosts its inaugural Naper Pride Fest

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Photo by Faye Tyschper

Faye Tyschper and Amelia Hebel

Over the weekend, the Naper Pride Organization held its inaugural Pride Fest at Naper Settlement after the event was postponed for over a year due to COVID-19.

Naper Pride Fest organizers aimed to create a local event where residents could come together in support of their community’s LGBTQ+ members. 

Ken Mejia-Beal, one of the organizers of Naper Pride Fest, wanted to create a unique environment in which people of all ages could come and enjoy the festivities. 

“There’s a lot of pride parades, so we wanted to have a festival with music, food, and games. We wanted a family-friendly event that everyone could come to,” Mejia-Beal said. 

The festival was originally set to happen during Pride month in June of 2020, but rapidly increasing COVID-19 infection rates prompted the Naper Pride Organization to postpone the festival until Sep. 2021. The event included live music, over 15 vendors for food and merchandise, a petting zoo and plenty of rainbow balloons. Over the course of two days, the festival attracted hundreds of visitors throughout the area, both members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community.

The event localizes a trend of increasing support for the LGBTQ+ community through festivals, parades and other celebrations throughout the United States. 

Mejia-Beal also hopes that the Naper Pride Fest will bring awareness to some of the issues that LGBTQ+ people face. 

“As more people come out, I hope they will learn more about LGBTQ issues like homelessness, senior citizen disparity and education,” Mejia-Beal said.

Some of the results of hosting an event like Naper Pride Fest benefit young people specifically, according to local 15-year old and Naper Pride Fest attendee, Riley Grace.

“It’s nice to see our town be really accepting. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with us, it helps to show people, especially those who are younger, that we can all live in peace together,” Grace said.

Oscar Guzman, a counselor at Naperville North High School and sponsor of the NNHS Gender-Sexuality Alliance, believes that this event will help a larger audience recognize the needs of LGBTQ+ students. 

“Identifying the needs of our students, making these identities visible, and making others aware of these identities and cultures that come with them helps to form acceptance within our community and schools alike,” Guzman said. 

Jim Lara, Naper Pride Fest vendor and Director of Business Operations at senior assisted living community Independence Village in Naperville said that this event also helps bring attention to some of the inequalities that LGBTQ+ senior citizens face.

“We are supporters and allies of the LGTBQ community. Seniors need a safe place to live just like anybody else, and the LGBTQ senior community has gone through a different journey than straight seniors,” Lara said.

In recent years, there have been multiple reports of senior citizens being denied care or assistance in assisted living communities solely based on their sexuality or gender identity, according to PBS. This has sparked waves of support for senior citizens within the LGBTQ+ community and led to more residences, such as Independence Village, showing their support. 

“We want to show that we are all-inclusive, and that’s why we came here today,” Lara said. 

As this year’s festival comes to a close, organizers are already looking ahead to next year’s Naper Pride Fest, and hope that their message of inclusivity and acceptance stretches far beyond the gates of Naper Settlement. 

“At the end of the day, we are all one big community, and we should learn to support and help each other out,” Mejia-Beal said.