The LGBTQIA+ community in Champaign-Urbana has a long and vibrant history. In honor of Pride Fest 2020, the Champaign County Historical Archives takes a look at a few of the many newsletters published by queer groups in C-U. These newsletters, many of which are from the 1980s and 1990s, show the strength of a community that has never been afraid to wear its pride and activism on its sleeve.
The Gay and Lesbian Prairie Press (GPP) was first published in 1990. You could find the Prairie Press in many local establishments, including The Blind Pig, Jane Addams, and the New Art Theatre, to name a few. In the February 1991 issue, the GPP outlined a set of core ethical guidelines which included providing a space for “all points of view in the gay community,” to open channels of dialogue and debate on issues of local and national importance, and “to always be as fair and open-minded as possible” .
The GPP connected queer people with important news and resources in the community. Articles in the GPP frequently discussed political issues of local and national significance, as well as social events, rallies, and candidate forums.
Another important topic was the local drag scene. This article from the November 1990 issue highlighted the Miss Gay Champaign Pageant, which was the first professionally sanctioned contest to be held at Chester Street Bar in Champaign . Monique Montaine, a talented drag queen from Peoria, took home the $100 first-place prize. Monique Taboo, pictured here, was the runner up.
But the joy and celebration captured in these articles is contrasted with the adversity of a community fighting against ingrained social prejudices and a national epidemic. Community newsletters did not shy away from these difficult subjects. For example, The Gay Community Aids Project newsletter (GCAPSULE) was dedicated to providing lifesaving information about the aids epidemic that was ravaging the nation in the 1980s. Aids-related legislation, as well as possible HIV vaccines, were regular topics of discussion. The motto of GCAPSULE was “An organization dedicated to eliminating the need for its existence.”
The news and opinions of the gay community were the topics of People Like Us (PLU), a campus newsletter that was published throughout the 1980s. Articles in PLU ranged from film reviews to debates of recent events and updates about local protests. The reverse side of the newsletter bares a sad reminder of the prejudices the queer community faced in C-U. “Names of PLU contributors and staff are sometimes pseudonyms… due to the lack of civil rights protections for gay people on the University of Illinois campus.” Contributors regularly wrote about their experiences with discrimination and homophobia in C-U. But the tone of these articles was often one of defiance and pride.
The Champaign County Historical Archives is fortunate to have these and other newsletters from LGBTQIA+ groups in our collection. If you have historical documents pertaining to this vital piece of our local history that you would like to donate, please let us know. We are committed to documenting, preserving, and sharing the dynamic and unique stories of queer people in C-U!
- Breaden B.