Members of the band will be in Oak Park on July 4th. | Annette Leibovitz/Mitzvah Photography

In the late 1970s, gay pride marching bands emerged across the United States. One of the bands that formed during this time was the Chicago Gay Pride Band, which performed in the 1979 Chicago Pride Parade. Organizer Jon Dallas officially formed Lakeside Pride Music Ensembles in 1997, originally under the name Chicago Black Lesbian and Gay Band and later Lakeside Pride Freedom Band.

For the past decade, the Lakeside Pride marching band has been a memorable feature of Oak Park’s annual 4th of July parade. Lakeside Pride Music Ensembles, now in its 26th year, boasts over 400 members including members of the LGBTQ+ community as well as allies. 

Clarinetist, public relations officer, and ally to the LGBTQ+ community (as well as occasional flute and saxophone player) Abdo Timejardine-Zomeño said that when he first began playing with the organization in 2013, he was struck by the group’s welcoming environment. “Anytime there’s a new face like in rehearsal, everyone tries to make the effort to show that they’re welcome,” he said. “We’re happy to have you.”

The ensembles have no audition process, which means members range in ability from upcoming professionals to “people who haven’t touched their instruments since high school,” said Timejardine-Zomeño.

At the time of its founding in 1997, the organization included only 25 members. In its short history, the organization has grown dramatically. Timejardine-Zomeño said he has seen further growth during his time with the organization. “I think a lot of it had to do with the passing of marriage equality in 2015,” he said. “People are seeing that LGBT people exist and keep our society moving.”

The four most prominent ensembles are the Marching Band, Jazz Orchestra, Symphonic Band, and Pops Ensemble (conducted by drag queen Manic Maxxie). The organization also lists 10 smaller ensembles on its website, ranging from a Latin band to the “Tiny Bubbles ‘Ukulele’ Ensemble.”

Timejardine-Zomeño said the organization offers a sense of belonging to people who might not otherwise find a supportive community. “People, like me, who don’t belong and people who are in the (LGBTQ+) community have found a place where they can be themselves and play music.”

“I hear from a lot of people that (Lakeside Pride) is their safe space,” said Jordan Francisco, Lakeside Pride’s marketing officer. “Some members unfortunately cannot have their names be included in our program book out of fear of retaliation from their employers. It’s nice to know that we’re able to provide the space for them and be their friends.”

As states pass legislation attacking LGBTQ+ rights, Lakeside Pride continues to flourish as a safe space for creative expression and marginalized communities. In March, the group’s board released a letter about these laws and included local resources for community members. Lakeside Pride is a member of the Pride Bands Alliance, a network connecting pride bands across the nation and the world. Through this network, musicians in the LGBTQ+ community are able to connect and play with bands and finda supportive community, wherever they may be.

“Especially for those who live in Texas and Florida and places like that, that’s a way for us to say, ‘You can march with us. You have a place,’” said Timejardine-Zomeño.

Lakeside Pride “is my chosen family,” said Francisco. The organization does more than play music. The musicians “come together to … cause a positive impact to our community,” said Francisco. “It brings me great joy.”

The ensembles’ performances slow after the busy month of June but interested readers should be sure to check out the marching band’s performance in the Village of Oak Park’s annual Fourth of July parade. A full schedule of events can be found on Lakeside Pride’s website,