Category Archives: Personified

By @ 05/07/19 in Gay travel, Gay-Friendly, Gay-friendly Illinois, Illinois, LGBT Illinois, LGBT travel Illinois, Personified, Travel

Jonna Cooley in ManAboutWorld gay travel magazineJonna Cooley is an LGBTQ trailblazer, a pioneer and an Illinois native. She grew up in Meredosia, and then moved to Springfield in 1979. She began working at the Phoenix Center, Central Illinois’ LGBTQ Community Center, in April of 2006. The center provides a variety of services and activities for the LGBTQ community, including youth groups, transgender support groups, and a parent group, among others. The organization also provides various social and educational events such as an LGBTQ Film Series, Springfield PrideFest and drag shows.

The center also provides safe, supportive housing for homeless HIV+ men and women, transitional housing for homeless LGBTQ individuals, a variety of prevention programming and counseling.

Jonna is also one of the people proudly responsible for bringing pride to Springfield. In 2010, she brought a group of people together because she thought it was time to talk about having pride in Springfield. The attendance was overwhelming and Springfield PrideFest was born.

The first event was on Harvey Milk Day in 2011, one city block of 3,000 people. Today, the event has grown to 4+ city blocks, food and drinks, vendors, a kid’s area, and a teen drag show competition. Last year there were an estimated 20,000 people in attendance. Jonna’s been with her partner, Lisa Tomasino, for 19 years. They have a daughter, Erin, who lives and works in Florida. They live in Springfield with their three cats: Doc, Cleo, and Oliver, and their big five-pound chihuahua, Dino.

We sat down with Jonna to chat about LGBTQ life in Springfield and how the city continues to inspire her.

Jonna Cooley: tell us about life as an out gay person in Springfield. Is there a strong sense of queer community here?

While Springfield is a capital city, it is small and surrounded by rural communities and farmland. I love that because I grew up in a small community and my grandparents were farmers. Springfield tends to have a conservative image, but I have to say that overall, I’ve found Springfield to be supportive of the LGBTQ community.

I think there is a strong sense of queer community here – in a small-town kind of way. On one hand, the LGBTQ community seems to be fragmented. There are a lot of people who hang out together, who do stuff together, but they may or may not participate in LGBTQ-focused events or even be out to others in the LGBTQ community. On the other hand, everyone seems to come out (pun intended) for PrideFest and there is always great support from all factions when Phoenix Center is in need of assistance. In addition, there have been successful gay bars in Springfield that seem to be another common gathering place.

How does Springfield standout from the rest of Illinois?

For a small city, we really have a lot to offer. We are the only city to have an LGBTQ Community Center south of I-80. There are Jonna Cooley's gay-friendly Springfield, Illinois in ManAboutWorld Magazineother groups and organizations, but there is no other not-for-profit facility to go to for services, housing, groups, counseling, etc. on a daily basis with full-time, professional staff.

In addition, Springfield is a clean and friendly city with a small-town feel. We have lots of history and great places to visit like Lincoln’s Home & Tomb, the Old State Capitol, the Dana-Thomas House, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Every time I go there, I say to myself, “I can’t believe this amazing place is in our great city!” We also have a lot of locally owned shops and food establishments that are amazing and unique, and great local theatre. At the same time, we don’t have a rush hour and you can get from one end of the city to the other in 15 minutes!

What are some places in Springfield that inspire you?

Having lived here 40 years, I still get a feeling when I drive down Capitol Avenue and see the capitol dome. My partner always says it never gets old, and it doesn’t. Just the sense of history here is inspiring—to think of all those who have walked the streets of Springfield before me, including Abraham Lincoln. I am always inspired walking or sitting in Washington Park or Lincoln Memorial Park where, regardless of the season, I find beauty in so many things.

What is it in Springfield that should entice LGBTQ travelers to visit. And how can LGBTQ visitors support the queer community when they visit your area?

Springfield PrideFest of course! It is free, family friendly, and lots of fun. Regardless of who you are, everyone should visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. It is a phenomenal experience as are the many other historical sites. LGBTQ visitors can support the queer community by visiting businesses and restaurants that are LGBTQ owned and/or supportive.

How would you like to see the LGBTQ community change or evolve, if at all, in your area? What’s missing? What could be better?

I would like to see us all work together to create an even greater LGBTQ community within our city. I would like to see more LGBTQ individuals get involved and be active and out in city and county government and in key positions to create change.

Tell us your perfect Springfield day.

An early morning visit to the amazing downtown Farmer’s Market, maybe grabbing breakfast with friends at D&J Cafe. Then going for a long bike ride on one of the many great trails or a walk at Lincoln Memorial Gardens, sitting at Café Papo or Vans and drinking an ice tea and reading a book. Finally, dinner with my amazing partner at one of our favorite places; maybe Nick & Nino’s or The Old Luxemburg.

What local tips do you have for people visiting Springfield for the first time?

Don’t miss the Lincoln Presidential Museum, Lincoln’s Home & Tomb and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana-Thomas House. Take a walk at Lincoln Memorial Gardens. Have a “horseshoe” (a local favorite food dish) or try the “fire brand” chili at The Chili Parlor.

Visit downtown Springfield. If in the summer, get tickets to the Springfield Muni—our great outdoor theatre. Whether you are here for a day or a week, do not eat at a chain restaurant. We have so many great local places.

More Gay-friendly Illinois

This is just one of our many favorite stories and hotspots to help you discover gay-friendly Illinois for yourself. Continue your exploration here.

Enjoy a more immersive Illinois experience in the magazine:

ManAboutWorld is an app-based travel magazine by gay men which provides travel inspiration and trip-planning information for all whether you’re in the LGBTQ+ community or are an ally. It’s built exclusively for mobile devices and is not available in print. We first published these articles in the spring 2019 issue and make them available here for your enjoyment. The app and issues are all free. Download it for Apple devices or Android devices.



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By @ 05/07/19 in Gay Illinois, Gay travel, LGBT Illinois, LGBT travel Illinois, Personified, Travel

Josh Laskowski, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in ManAboutWorld gay travel magazineJosh Laskowski is the sunshiney morning voice of WQQB FM “All the Hits on Q 96” in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. His parents have owned a record store in Decatur for 30 years and still going strong, something that’s fueled his appreciation for every genre of music imaginable from death metal to Motown; but didn’t provide a straight path to his DJ career. After working a corporate gig in Chicago, Josh became promotions director at WQQB. As luck would have it, an on-air position opened up two weeks later. Despite his early morning wake up — his first alarm goes off at 4:25am weekdays! — he remains a cheerful morning voice for all his Champaign-Urbana listeners.

Josh always sits on the board of directors of Champaign-Urbana Pride & Parade, an event he helped significantly expand. Josh also leads tours of kids and young adults to historic places across the United States. We caught up with Josh after a recent morning show to discuss how Champaign-Urbana inspires him and what makes it so friendly for local and visiting LGBTQ+ people.

What inspired you to become a DJ?

I always knew I wanted to be in media. I tried TV, but didn’t like it.  I like to talk, and I’m loud. Someone gave me a shot on a late night show on a Decatur radio station. Two weeks in, my promotions director was fired and I took over. That lead me to doing community events that bring people together, which lead me to emceeing Champaign-Urbana’s Pride celebration. The event has become a staple for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in September. It’s fun for those who wish to dance and party to the wee hours, but also fun for the family.

Tell us about life as an LGBTQ person in Champaign. Is there a strong sense of queer community here?

Yes, and having the University of Illinois in our backyard helps tremendously. I came from a more blue-collar area in Decatur, which wasn’t as accepting as it is here in Champaign-Urbana. The only gay bar here closed but its closing hasn’t really harmed the local queer community. We’d love to have such a space here but I still feel accepted everywhere. “Midwest Nice” is real. In terms of diversity, it doesn’t get as diverse in Illinois as it does here.  I feel I can go anywhere and be accepted.

How does Champaign standout from the rest of Illinois?

Part of it is the university. Another is the wonderful food scene. The breadth of local farm-to-table restaurant options is amazing. I Josh Laskowski, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in ManAboutWorld gay travel magazinecould go out every day for a month and never go to a chain and never go to the same place twice. Also of course the Pride celebration which was the first Pride parade downstate in Illinois outside of Chicago.

What are some places in Champaign that inspire you?

Because I go back to my music ties, the Virginia Theater is a gem in our community. I’m inspired by all the music coming through from 38 Special to Manhattan Transfer — a great spectrum of musical genres that comes to see us. I can see major performances including the Russian Ballet at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. We have an amazing monument of Lincoln near me in Urbana called “The Lincoln Lawyer” statue, which is is located in Carle Park across from Urbana High School. I’m inspired by all the learning that happens here. Champaign-Urbana is cultivating the next generation of leaders. We have an area called Research Park with many major companies recruiting here.

How can LGBTQ visitors support the queer community when they visit Champaign?

They should make plans to come down and see how we celebrate in September for Champaign-Urbana Pride Festival. Pride has become a staple for not only the community but also for University of Illinois faculty, staff and students. We celebrate Pride in September because the students are gone during the summer. Come and see how accepting people are no matter what you look or sound like. It’s an open and loving community. You can get that feel in general all over Champaign-Urbana but especially so in September for when we celebrate Pride in CU.

How would you like to see the LGBTQ community evolve, if at all, in Champaign?

We’d love to have rainbow sidewalks or cross walks! If Chicago and other large metros have them , why can’t we?! But I digress, I’d love to see a dance club open. C Street was the gay dance club and it closed so I feel like that’s missing. I’d love to see that club where it’s easy to go mingle with people looking for the same thing I am. We are only two hours from Chicago and Indianapolis and three from St. Louis so we have the best of both worlds, corn fields and small towns where everyone knows you and a quick drive to the city!

Tell us your perfect Champaign day.

It starts with brunch at Prairie Fruits Farm, a lovely farm whose restaurant (unsurprisingly!) offers a farm-to-table menu. You can also take a tour of the creamery. Then I’d go for a midday movie at the Virginia. We also have a great sports scene here with the fighting Illini. Then we end up downtown Champaign with a fresh meal at a local restaurant.

What local tips do you have for people visiting Champaign for the first time?

For the first time check Visit Champaign County and request a visitors guide ahead of time. Read it and follow it. It focuses on cool stories.  See a sporting event at the university. Go to the local theater. We have a reindeer farm in the county where you can interact with reindeer. Make sure to eat and drink locally. There are great local brews and extraordinary restaurants. Go local with more of my specific recommendations.

More Gay-friendly Illinois

This is just one of our many favorite stories and hotspots to help you discover gay-friendly Illinois for yourself. Continue your exploration here.

Enjoy a more immersive Illinois experience in the magazine:

ManAboutWorld is an app-based travel magazine by gay men which provides travel inspiration and trip-planning information for all whether you’re in the LGBTQ+ community or are an ally. It’s built exclusively for mobile devices and is not available in print. We first published these articles in the spring 2019 issue and make them available here for your enjoyment. The app and issues are all free. Download it for Apple devices or Android devices.



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By @ 05/06/19 in Gay travel, Gay-friendly Illinois, Illinois, LGBT Illinois, LGBT travel Illinois, Personified, Travel

Douglas and Richard in Galena Illinois and in ManAboutWorld gay travel magazineDouglas and Robert, owners of the Aldrich Guest House in gay-friendly Illinois, have been together for just over 12 years. They had their Civil Union on their fifth anniversary, shortly after those were legalized in Illinois. A couple years later, when marriage equality passed, they converted it into a marriage. 

Both have been in the service/hospitality industry their entire lives – nearly 50 combined years. They both grew up in the Midwest — Douglas in Indiana, Robert in Michigan.

They initially considered Chicago’s Andersonville or Edgewater neighborhoods for their B&B, but after 11 years in Chicago, they wanted to get back to small town living. When they came to Galena, they found a community where everyone was open and welcoming and extremely friendly! They discovered the Aldrich Guest House on their first trip to Galena and it ticked all of the boxes.  They made an offer and a couple months later, they were the proud owners of Aldrich Guest House!

Built in 1845 as a one room, two-story house by a man named Cyrus Aldrich, a congressman and friend of Abraham Lincoln, the guesthouse is steeped in history. Now, Aldrich Guest House has five guestrooms and can accommodate up to 10 guests.

They’ve been voted one of the top 15 best bed and breakfasts in the entire United States and won first national runner up in a Breakfast at Aldrich House, Gelena, Illinois and in ManAboutWorld gay travel magazinenationwide breakfast competition. They’ve renovated the entire house (no more of that crazy wallpaper!) with the goal of creating a feeling that is relaxing yet elegant.

What they’re most proud of, though, is their unique style of service that is intuitive, personal, and professional yet unobtrusive. They’re always honored that guests choose to stay with us since they’re choosing to make us part of their story, plus guests are our favorite part of what we do.  We recently caught up with Douglas and Robert to chat about Galena, Illinois, small-town life, and the burgeoning LGBTQ community throughout the state.

How is Galena different from other places you’ve lived/visited?

Living in and visiting Galena helps you remember what a human pace is. Having lived in Chicago for so long, we had almost become immune to the hustle and bustle of the city along with the noise and crowds. It wasn’t until we went back to Chicago after our first trip to Galena that we noticed all of those things. Being in Galena definitely helps you slow down and appreciate the people and things around you.

Describe the impact the LGBTQ community has had on Galena over the years you’ve been coming here?

In Galena, we’re very fortunate as part of the LGBTQ community since there have been many before us setting the foundation for a culture of acceptance and equality.  In the 1940s, Galena was a small artist colony which was inherently very open and welcoming. One of the things that’s great for LGBTQ visitors is that there is NOT a ‘gay part’ of town or any ‘gay’ bars etc.  The reason that’s great is because the entire city is open and welcoming so we don’t need a gay section of town – it’s the entire place! There are several small lodging properties in addition to many shops that are owned by LGBTQ folks and even if the innkeepers, shopkeepers, or restaurants aren’t specifically LGBTQ, everyone is welcome. Truly, in Galena, being LGBTQ is a complete non-issue which is just how it should be as that’s what equality looks like!

What are some places in Galena that inspire you?

What we find most inspirational is the outdoors. Galena is situated in what is called the ‘driftless zone’ meaning that the glaciers never scraped the landscape into a pancake like in much of the Midwest. We have hills and valleys, the Mississippi River is just 3 miles away, along with miles and miles of great hiking trails.  Being able to connect with nature in such a grand way is a very special part of living and visiting Galena.

How can LGBTQ travelers support LGBTQ community here and Illinois in general?

The best way for LGBTQ travelers to support the LGBTQ community both in Galena and Illinois is simply by living however you’re most proud. By being you and being confident and proud of that, stereotypes, misinformation, and the taboo of being LGBTQ will continue to disappear as hearts and minds are changed little by little. Thankfully Galena is ahead of the curve, so the opportunity to support LGBTQ businesses by staying at welcoming bed and breakfasts, patronizing supportive stores, etc. is a very real thing in here and is greatly encouraged!

Do you have any tips for people coming to Galena for the first time?

Although there are less than 3,500 people that live here, Galena is not a one trick pony!  We have over 130 mom & pop shops and restaurants along our half mile long Main Street – the Helluva Half Mile! In addition to that, there’s an awesome history that can be experienced through tours of Grant’s Home, the Washburne House, and the Belvedere Mansion as well as the History Museum and Old Market House. If that’s not enough, the great outdoors can keep you busy as well from canoeing/kayaking on the Galena River to biking, hiking, and both cross country and downhill skiing in the winter…and that’s just in Galena not to mention all of the other wonderful places to experience that are within a short drive.  We’ve been here for nearly 5 years, and we still have a long list of things we want to do. So our biggest tip is to plan more than a day…or plan a day, but know that you’re going to want to come back again and again!

What are a couple of your personal hidden gems in Galena (and Greater Illinois, ideally outside of Chicago)? 

In Galena, there are two things that we love – Fritz and Frites Bistro and the P.T. Murphy Magic Show. If you only have an evening in Galena, those are two things not to miss!  Just 15 minutes outside of Galena is Elizabeth which has the Elizabeth Grand Antique Mall and Common Cents both of which are great places to find hidden treasures if you’re into antiques.  While you’re there, stop at E-Town for a great sandwich and visit the Apple River Fort where you can learn how, during an attack by Blackhawk in 1832, the men of the fort had to swallow their pride and let the women help defend the settlement and how the women’s participation is what actually kept the outpost from being destroyed.

What’s been your most embarrassing moment as a guest house owners? Any funny stories you can share?

This is a tough one! Having been in hospitality for so long, nothing really fazes us or surprises us anymore.  That’s part of what’s so great about being innkeepers and in hospitality – no two days are ever the same!

More Gay-friendly Illinois

This is just one of our many favorite stories and hotspots to help you discover gay-friendly Illinois for yourself. Continue your exploration here.

Enjoy a more immersive Illinois experience in the magazine:

ManAboutWorld is an app-based travel magazine by gay men which provides travel inspiration and trip-planning information for all whether you’re in the LGBTQ+ community or are an ally. It’s built exclusively for mobile devices and is not available in print. We first published these articles in the spring 2019 issue and make them available here for your enjoyment. The app and issues are all free. Download it for Apple devices or Android devices.



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