Ottawa celebrates Pride with inaugural festival June 11

Proceeds from new event will benefit Youth Outlook Drop-In Center

The story of Ottawa’s first pride festival, the Ottawa Family Pride Festival, is one of courage.

Specifically, the courage of a young man Prairie Fox Special Events Manager Dylan Conmy met.

“There’s a young man I met last year who, at 12 years old, showed the bravery of coming out to his family as transgender,” Conmy said. “He was so happy that he started marching down the street with his family and we joined him at the bookstore.”

That’s when Conmy realized Ottawa doesn’t have a celebration for its LGBTQ+ residents like other cities do, so he gathered his own courage to approach the city to see about organizing an event during Pride Month.

Conmy said the city was more than happy to give access to parks and it’s been supportive in his endeavor.

“I didn’t expect it to actually get as big as it has gotten,” Conmy said. “I’m from the Chicagoland area. I didn’t grow up here. I came here in 2012, and I was used to there being a lot more resources. I wasn’t sure how much support would be around here.”

But Conmy has received support from the community and other businesses. More than 70 volunteers signed up to help, more than he’s had for any other event he’s planned. Sponsors are contacting him and several more people are donating services.

“It’s actually been quite humbling and quite wonderful to be part of organizing,” Conmy said.

The festival is about more than just celebrating, though: Conmy mentioned Ottawa doesn’t have the resources of one of the largest cities in the U.S., but it does have a Youth Outlook Drop-In Center located at Open Table UUC.

Youth Outlook is an organization that, despite being located inside of a church, is not faith-based. It will be the beneficiary of donations and profits from Ottawa Family Pride Fest.

Program Leader Heather Francis said it started in the summer of 2016 when some members of the church trained to become volunteers before putting in a formal application. Youth Outlook at Open Table opened in April 2017, and is celebrating its fifth birthday.

“We provide support and answer questions as best as we can and sometimes, the youth answer questions for each other,” Francis said. “Sometimes we just have fun and hold game nights or we do crafty thing, and sometimes it’s really serious.”

Francis said she’s hosted programs on suicide awareness and prevention, along with self defense.

“We’ve talked about coming out to family and schools, and how you have to be safe to take that next step,” Francis said. “As much as it stinks, waiting is important until you can be safe to do that.”

Youth Outlook hosts programs for people ages 12 to 20, which Francis said seemed like a huge age group at first.

“I wasn’t entirely on board with it, if I’m being honest,” Francis said. “I was a mom of a daughter on the younger end and I thought it was such a big range, but it’s worked really well because our older kids become mentors of sorts to our younger kids. The younger kids still act their age, but they rise a little bit to the level of our older kids.”

Francis said it’s important to note, though, many of the youth that come in to talk are supported by their families, who are helpful in getting them to Youth Outlook for programs.

Youth Outlook had to switch to meeting over Zoom in March of 2020.

“We’re thrilled to have this and the kids are so excited that something like Family Pride is happening in their backyard,” Francis said. “It’s not in the suburbs and it’s not in Chicago. It’s right here. We never thought we’d see this in Ottawa.”

Francis said Youth Outlook has helped more than 185 people in its five years from 29 different communities.

Ottawa Family Pride Festival will be full of vendors and performers, which will start at 9:40 a.m. in Washington Square with a Pets for Pride Parade as well as at 11 a.m. the Jordan block, where there will be food trucks and performances from the Magnolia Bellydancers, Katie Belle and the Belle Rangers and Ky Chameleon.

The Pets for Pride Parade will take place on the sidewalks around Washington Square and will not impede traffic. Pets will be dressed up in pride gear and a host of judges will give out prizes for the best costume, along with a few surprises.

“We have more than 50 vendors and artists and 10 non-profits coming in,” Conmy said. “Some of them being the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which is also one of our biggest sponsors for the festival. Equality Illinois, Warriors for the Children, all of those will be there as well.”

There also will be free arts and crafts activities for both kids and adults, along with a history walk so people can learn about LGBT history.

Conmy said anyone who wants to contribute a piece for the history walk can contact him on the Ottawa Family Pride Fest Facebook page.

“At the heart of this, it’s about building up support and awareness,” Conmy said. “The more people come out and show their support for this, the more the young kids will see that this community has their back.”

Donations can be made to support the event and Youth Outlook Drop-in Center by going to