A first-time event in downtown Saturday celebrates 25 years since the city's first bar for the LGBTQ community opened.
Jan Lancaster opened The Bistro 25 years ago. She jokes that's like 100 in bar years, but takes pride that it's believed to be the longest continuously open gay bar under one owner in Central Illinois.
Lancaster said while many in the gay community still struggle for acceptance, she noticed times have changed since the bar first opened as one of the few public places where they would feel welcome to be themselves.
“We had lots of people park their car blocks away and walked up because they didn’t want their coworkers to see their car parking in front of a gay bar,” Lancaster said. “A lot of them weren’t ‘out’ at their workplace. Some of them weren’t out to their families.”
The Bistro is hosting Pride Fest, a day-long block party that includes outdoor bands and drag shows. Lancaster hopes to expand the event in the future to include a Pride parade in Bloomington-Normal.
Lancaster said there are Pride parades in Springfield, Champaign, Decatur and Peoria. She said it's time for one in the Twin Cities too.
"Everyone is just looking forward to planting the seeds for a bigger festival, an ongoing one that will keep going on forever in this town," Lancaster said.
Lancaster added the festival fits with The Bistro’s theme as a place where all are welcome. She believes the bar has helped change perceptions and to ensure equal rights for all.
“It isn’t just a bar to me. We’ve been able to initiate change, I think,” Lancaster said. “When people say we are a family, we truly are a family.”
More information on Pride Fest is available here.
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