Chicago, Illinois Lakeside Pride Music Ensembles, Chicago's premiere music groups for the LGBTQ+ community members and allies, is currently under the direction of its first out HIV+ board chair, Brandon Strawn.
Strawn has been a member of Lakeside Pride since 2008 and a member of the Board since 2015. Since then, he has grown to admire the unique community that an LGBTQ+ and ally music organization offers for individual members and Chicago.
"At the time I joined, I was just looking for a place to play my trombone after college even though I wasn't a professional musician. So I appreciated that the organization allows members of all skill levels to join - relieving some of the pressure of auditioning," says Strawn. "But it's the amazing community that has really kept me involved for the past decade."
Strawn joined the organization when it consisted of roughly 100 members. Since then, it has increased its membership to over 400 active members and is constantly growing, with significant recruiting efforts in the South and West Sides of the city.
"I was the Member Resources Officer for 2 years, meaning I was the first face everyone got to meet when they joined our large music family, then I transitioned into Operations, where I helped a lot of the back end logistics of things like organizing our storage facilities, percussion movers, and things like that, and during my most recent Member-at-Large appointment, I led a small subcommittee to help plan and host our 25th Anniversary celebration, " said Strawn. "During my time as Member Resources Officer, I also started an initiative known as 'Affinity Groups', which are composed of folks who share a common interest or identity and a way to help bridge the ongoing silo effect and bring members from different ensembles together based on backgrounds such as these. Some of these affinity groups range from, but are not limited to, our trans/non-binary group, our BIPOC group, and our movies/cinema group. With these groups, our organization helps to bridge the gap between our diverse membership and provide a safe space for those that need it."
As preparation for the current term begins, Strawn has high hopes for what his appointment as the chair of an organization with a mission and vision like Lakeside Pride could mean for the future.
"On a more personal note, organizations like Lakeside Pride, as well as the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus, and all sorts of queer community bands and choruses were decimated in the 80s and 90s by the HIV/AIDS Pandemic. Many of them, ourselves included, ended up disbanding. I was told at the time that it was like you couldn't even take off your funeral coat, because you wore it every single weekend because you were going to bury one of your friends. Fortunately we were able to come back together in 1997, which is the official founding of Lakeside Pride. We've had a lot of success over the years, and perhaps what's most important about my appointment as the chair, is that I am an openly out HIV+ person. And the freedom and the true windfall that I feel to be living in a city, in a state, working at a school, where I can own all of these different parts of myselfthat I am queer, that I'm married to a man, that I'm HIV+, is huge to me. Queer people are under attack legislatively, figuratively, and literally across the country. I think it's really important for us to assert ourselves by saying, 'What you are calling the gay agenda, we are calling, we just want to live'."
ABOUT LAKESIDE PRIDE:
Lakeside Pride Music Ensembles is Chicago's premier family of performance groups for members and friends of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community. Home to four major ensembles Jazz Orchestra, Marching Band, Pops Ensemble, and Symphonic Band plus over a dozen chamber ensembles, the organization offers a diverse musical experience for both its audience and members.