Two local and straight musicians will be performing in a marching band comprised primarily of members who identify as LGBTQI+ at the Oak Park Fourth of July parade, which will start at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Ridgeland Avenue and Jackson Boulevard. 

Aimee Faller and Claire Manor, of Forest Park, are board members of Lakeside Pride Music Ensembles, a nonprofit marching band, symphonic band and jazz orchestra that does not require auditions. Approximately 300 people are members of Lakeside Pride, which aims to achieve diversity at all levels, member participation in decision-making, accommodation of a range of musical abilities and open communication. About 78 members will march during the Oak Park parade. 

“I wasn’t in the popular group in high school 20 years ago,” Faller began. “I was a grunge kid—baggy jeans, plaid shirts, wallet chains and jelly bracelets.  I was bullied a lot and my locker was broken into and vandalized.

“We got mostly positive reactions from most students, but we did have some issues with kids calling us fags. I was also a theater kid which at that time had a stigma attached to it. We were all outcasts anyway so it didn’t really matter much to us how we were viewed,” she said. 

Faller was also into music, but had a disdain for Britney Spears and boy bands “which didn’t help.” She performed in the band and in the choir. Years later, after several years without playing her flute, she googled “Chicago community bands” and decided to give Lakeside Pride a try. 

“I came for the music,” she said, “and I stayed for the community.”

Like Faller, Manor participated in music and the theater while in high school. Unlike Faller, her high school was in a small town in Virginia, and she was more of a mainstream kid whose connection with the LGBT community came through close associations with gay friends.

“I don’t think anybody in my high school was out, but I was the first person that two of my very, very good friends came out to in the summer between our freshman and sophomore years,” Manor said. “I was very honored that they chose me to tell. It was so hard for them.”

After graduating from high school, she attended Columbia College in Chicago, where her best friend at the time came out to her. “He locked us in a bathroom and it took him two hours to get his whole story out,” she said. “He was crying. It’s the first political issue I ever deeply cared about because it affected me so deeply.”

Manor went through a period of many years without playing her clarinet. She realized she missed the practice, looked online for community bands and started out with Lakeside Pride in 2013. She loved the idea of not having to audition. When she started with Lakeside Pride, she first performed with the symphonic band. She sat down in her seat, looked at a sheet of music for the first time in several years and immediately thought, “This music is too hard.”  

“But everyone was so accommodating,” Manor said. “If parts of the piece we are playing are too hard for me, I just don’t play that part.”

She added: “Lakeside is a family, where community comes first and music comes second.  Literally anyone—any sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity or level of skill—can join.”

The two women agree there’s been a lot of change in our society regarding gay people, particularly on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. 

The Stonewall Inn opened as a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village in 1967, a time when anti-gay laws were still on the books. On June 28, 1969 a police raid touched off a week long series of protests, marches and violence. As the riots progressed, an international gay rights movement was born.   

Looking back at how the culture has changed regarding its views of homosexuality, Faller said, “It’s changed a lot in a short amount of time.”

Manor acknowledged that the marching band still hears a few slurs along parade routes and sees a few signs saying they are going to burn in hell, but the times have changed. Most major cities in the U.S. have gay marching bands. On August 24, Lakeside Pride’s symphonic band will perform a joint concert with the London Gay Symphonic Winds in Chicago. 

In contrast with the violent Stonewall Riots, Lakeside Pride members use music to express themselves and also to change hearts and minds.  

“There’s nothing more fundamental to being human than music,” Faller said, “and what better way to bridge the gap between different groups than to share a love of music. Once people have faces and stories they are no longer an abstract concept. Music is a way to get people together and realize that we’re not all so different after all.”