According to the 2010 Census, Forest Park came in second in Illinois for the highest density of gay couples — 13.26 per 1,000. Oak Park recorded 15.70 per 1,000.
The Forest Park Diversity Commission will acknowledge that statistic and celebrate it by holding a Pride Event in the Constitution Court parking lot on Madison Street this Saturday, June 22 between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The village council voted unanimously on April 22 to support the event.
The celebration will include ice cream from the Brown Cow and free hot dogs from Joel Albright (Smokey Joel’s). The Lakeside Pride Theater Collective will perform, the Forest Park Public Library will offer a reading list of relevant titles, the Forest Park Historical Society will host a table with information on LGBTQ history in this village and community groups like OPALGA+ (Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association) will be available for conversation and information. Other groups providing information at tables include the Howard Brown Center on Halsted, Lakeside Pride, Echo Theater Collective, Julieta Rodriguez (local artist), and Rush Oak Park Hospital.
The Diversity Commission hopes to educate attendees by posting 11×17 boards around Constitution Court with information on topics like History of the Pride Flag, Identity-Orientation-Behavior, History, and What Do All Those Letters Mean?
Cecilia Pina Boyd, the recently appointed chairperson of the Diversity Commission, said the objective in staging the event is “to educate and celebrate Pride Month in the community and make sure we are acknowledging it in Forest Park.” That fits with the mandate given to the commission when it was created three years ago and stated on its website:
“The Diversity Commission will be a resource for experience and information on diversity issues and serve in an advisory capacity to the Mayor and Village Council. They shall help to enrich the social and intellectual life of all residents through educational and social programs.”
Recognizing that June is Gay Pride Month, the commission was careful to calendar Forest Park’s Pride event on a day other than the day Chicago’s Pride Parade is scheduled, June 30. Boyd said, “I want for people to know about the Diversity Commission, that we care about Pride and that we are making efforts to provide a version of Pride in our community.”
Boyd added that the commission has decided to step out and host events without worrying about having every detail worked out perfectly.
“We are hoping to connect with the LGBT community through this celebration and see how they would like to do it in the future,” she said. “We’re not taking a shot in the dark because we’ve had some good input and planning, but what we are going to do is learn. I feel like we have to take on that challenge. If the event doesn’t work out perfectly this year, we’ll learn from it. Hey, we’re going to bring Pride to Forest Park and we’ll figure it out.”
In the commission’s three-year run, members have not been afraid to try different things. They participated in the discussion over the welcoming resolution in 2017, hosted an event at the Community Center titled, “Guests or Family: When Diversity is Inclusive,” and worked with the library on hospitality to Muslim students.
One learning experience involved members of the Diversity Commission approaching adult leaders of the local Boy Scout troop requesting their participation as volunteers. Unfortunately, Ned Wagner (troop committee chair) explained, the Boy Scouts won’t be able to participate in the Pride event because they’re “triple booked.”
One outreach to a local group that did work out is the commission’s invitation to OPALGA . A Forest Park resident for 21 years, Roger Wilson is co-chair of the OPALGA board of directors, a group with a 30-year history of advocacy for LGBTQ rights, which now “provides scholarships for graduating high school seniors and those already in college who are either themselves on the LGBTQ spectrum, or in a family that is LGBTQ , or are strong allies of their LGBTQ fellow students.”
Wilson said his organization’s current emphasis is on youth and gender, but he is also “very interested in making sure other minority groups — people of color, people with disabilities, anyone who is feeling marginalized — are made to feel welcome and supported in Forest Park.”
Although not able to have staff members present this year at the Pride event, the library has put together a list of books and films celebrating LGBTQ lives for kids, teens, and adults and will also be featuring displays within the library.