How a new Naperville group aims to support LGBTQ residents, families
Naperville's reputation as a thriving, family-friendly destination caused Denika McMillen to move there three years ago with her wife and three children.
Though the city largely has lived up to expectations, she said, she found it lacks opportunities for members of the LGBTQ community to feel supported, included and celebrated.
A new grass-roots organization aims to fill that gap.
Officially founded in December, Naper Pride plans to offer events, organized community action, resources and fundraising efforts that promote inclusivity, said McMillen, the group's public information officer. The goal is to support community members from all walks of life, she said, and to help LGBTQ residents and their families feel recognized and accepted.
"Naperville is one of the best places to raise a family," McMillen said. "It shouldn't just be one cookie-cutter type of family."
McMillen, who co-hosts a podcast about nontraditional family values, said she believes there is a need for more support groups and resources for same-sex couples or parents of kids who are coming out. She pointed to the city's rating of 63 out of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy organization that evaluates a community's inclusivity based on its laws, policies, services and government representation.
For a city of its size, she said, Naperville could do better.
Inspired by pride parades popping up in Chicago, Aurora and other nearby towns, Naper Pride founders started talking last year about how they could make waves in their own city, McMillen said. Rather than hosting one major celebration during pride month in June, they decided to expand their efforts year-round.
Upcoming events include a movie marathon June 23, a "Gayme Night" on July 20, and a health and wellness fair on Aug. 10. The organization also is planning an interfaith prayer service in July, McMillen said. An adult night and additional activities are expected to be scheduled through the rest of the year.
Naper Pride won't host its own parade, choosing instead to support those held in other suburbs, she said.
In addition to promoting positive experiences, the group hopes to provide resources for addressing some of the unique health and life questions facing the LGBTQ community, said McMillen, who is a social worker by trade. The health and wellness fair, for example, will connect people with specialized therapists, offer free HIV/AIDS screenings and provide lawyer consultations regarding adoption rights or gender changes.
That event also will serve as a learning opportunity for loved ones of LGBTQ community members, McMillen said. Maybe a friend will learn how to be a better ally, she said, or a parent will better understand how to help their transgender child who is in the process of transitioning.
Word about Naper Pride has spread since the group created a Facebook page and website, McMillen said, and so far, the feedback has been positive. Many residents have expressed their appreciation for feeling included, while others have said the organization's efforts help normalize nontraditional families.
"We're just really pushing for acceptance for everybody," McMillen said. "Hopefully by us having these events and bringing more recognition that these families exist, it'll create change within the city."