Gay-friendly Illinois: Personified Josh Laskowski, Champaign-Urbana

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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