Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade
Rainbow flags fluttered and techno music filled the air as my friends and I made our way east on Addison toward Halsted. It was uncomfortably hot and muggy, and storm clouds were looming, but this did not deter hundreds of thousands of people, gay, straight, and bisexual, from coming out (pun intended) for Chicago’s 41st annual Gay Pride Parade.
Chicago’s Pride Parade, one of the biggest and most elaborate in the country, is the final hurrah to a month-long celebration of all that is gay. Throughout the month of June, Chicago hosts hundreds of events, from workshops to athletic outings, meant to raise awareness and acceptance of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. However, none of the events compare to the parade, which is held the final Sunday in June every summer.
The first Chicago Pride Parade, which was actually more of a commemorative march, was held on June 27, 1970, beginning in Washington Square Park and ending at the historic Water Tower on Michigan Avenue. It was held a year to the day after the Stonewall Riots in New York City. On June 27, 1969, police in Greenwich Village raided the Stonewall Inn bar and attempted to arrest the patrons on account of their homosexuality. The bar patrons resisted, and the commotion attracted a crowd that quickly morphed into an angry mob. These violent demonstrations marked the first major instance in American history in which homosexuals stood up against the government sanctions put in place to allow for their persecution.
Over the years, the parade has changed slightly, and attendance and participation has grown exponentially, with 2010’s parade boasting approximately 450,000 spectators. The parade now begins at noon at the intersection of Belmont and Halsted and marches through the heart of Boystown, and ends on Cannon Drive, just after Diversey. Each year the parade features elaborate floats, decorated buses, cars and trolleys, performance groups, marching bands, baton twirlers, proud parents of gays, politicians, schools, and other organizations that support the cause.
2010’s parade, which featured recently outed country singer Chely Wright as the Grand Marshall, was especially exciting because ex-Blackhawk Brent Sopel brought the Stanley Cup to show his support of the Gay community. Sopel, who was accompanied by his wife and children, wanted to honor Brendan Burke, the late son of the Toronto Maple Leaf’s general manager, Brian Burke. Burke came out shortly before his untimely death on February 5, 2010. Ernie Banks was another notable Chicago athlete who took place in the parade, riding along and waving from a decked-out Cubs float.
Though we wish there had been a few more extravagant floats and a few less banner-laden school buses (the school buses, while effective for transporting people, just don’t achieve the same effect as crazy, music blaring floats), overall, my friends and I had a blast at our first Pride experience. The atmosphere was fun, lighthearted, and hopeful. It was encouraging to see a diverse crowd lining the streets of the parade route, standing shoulder to sweaty shoulder in a united front. Young and old, male and female, gay and straight, it gives me hope that slowly but surely, the world is becoming a more tolerant place for all people, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, and the like.