A month of celebrations culminated in the return of Chicago' Pride Parade on June 26, marking the first march of the decade after two years of cancellations due to the pandemic.
Weather-wise, the day was perfect, with sunny skies and the temperature around 80 degrees. However, the U.S. Supreme Court's recent overturning of Roe v. Wade cast a pall over the festivities.
The 51st annual parade kicked off at noon near Montrose Avenue and Broadway. About 150 different floats, decorated vehicles and performance groups began moving along the traditional parade route toward Diversey Avenue and Cannon Drive. Those marching in the parade represent community organizations, businesses, schools, churches government officials, political candidates and individual community members. Just a few of the marchers/floats in the parade included Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, Illinois state Sen. Mike Simmons, Equality Illinois, Scouts for Equality, AVER (American Veterans for Equal Rights), Lakeside Pride Music Ensembles, Steve Quick Jewelry, Sidetrack, and the local sports teams the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Bulls. There was also a banner honoring original parade organizer Rich Pfeiffer, who passed away in 2019; his husband, Tim Frye, has taken over as the event organizer.
Legacy grand marshals included the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame, the Illinois Holocaust Museum, Gerber/Hart Library and Archives, the Chicago Gender Society and activist Gary Chichester.
Simmonsthe first openly gay member of the Illinois Senatetold Windy City Times before the event, "All of this is historic. As we emerge from a lockdown, I think people are energized and excited."
"The LGBTQ+ community is not one that's born into ourselves, we're not raised in the same neighborhoods or attending the same houses of worship," said Equality Illinois Chief Executive Officer Brian C. Johnson. "We have to create our own our own spaces together and COVID has been so hard because we haven't had that opportunity, so I've been loving all the pride events because I've missed being in the physical presence of my queer community."
Marchers with Center on Halsted were led by a drum line of young people, many of whom are experiencing homelessness, said the organization's Chief Executive Officer Modesto Tico Valle.
"In some ways, I'm glad that they put elected officials and some of the corporations up front and then they leave us organizations to be with each other, to celebrate community and unite in our movement," Valle said.
The parade annually commemorates the June 28, 1969 Stonewall rebellion when patrons of a New York City bar fought back during a police raid, which were frequent at the time. Street demonstrations continued for days and gave rise to the formation of gay liberation groups.
"Pride is celebration and protest," Johnson said. "It's a way to come together and honor our community and a way to remind ourselves we're going to stand up against the tools of oppression and stigma and shame that are used to keep us in the shadows."
Johnson explained Equality Illinois' theme for the parade aims to remind onlookers that "queer rights and the rights of so many other communities are overlapping."
"We want to help people make the connection between our liberation and the liberation of so many other communities, many of whom share identity with queer people," Johnson said.
Just days before the parade, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ruling there is no longer a federal constitutional right to an abortion. In a concurring opinion, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas argued the U.S. Supreme Court should "reconsider" past rulings granting rights for contraception access, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, POLITCO reported.
"In some years, there's been lots to celebrate, especially in Illinois which has been a pro-choice and pro-LGBTQ+ state, but now we're seeing a lot of us suddenly at risk," said outgoing Illinois state Rep. Greg Harris, the first openly gay and HIV-positive state leader in the General Assembly.
"I'm thinking about how we can harness all the energy of the huge crowd coming out for the parade and put it into fighting for those rights and electing people who are going to protect us and not try to turn back the clock," Harris added.
Simmons agreed with Harris and pointed out that no one has witnessed a situation in the U.S. like the Roe v. Wade decision, in which rights were suddenly taken away from millions of people.
"I think the community is fired up and I suspect they'll be channeling their energies towards marching and going to protests and voting, hopefully in record numbers," Simmons said. "And just being authentic and proud, which is what pride is all about. It's about LGBTQ+ people being in public spaces and being joyful and being themselves robustly."
In light of continued threats to the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, from court rulings to the swell of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation passed across the country this year, Simmons, Harris, Johnson and Valle each emphasized the importance of voting in the June 28 primaries.
"The most important thing everyone can do at this time is vote," Valle said. "Go to vote and check on your elders and those who have mobility concerns and help them vote. Our lives are really at stake here and we can't be complacent assuming our votes don't count because they do."
Harris also suggested supporting local organizations, getting involved in campaigns and participating in demonstrations in order to "stand together" against injustice.
Valle emphasized that the spirit of pride doesn't end when the parade disperses and the glitter is swept from the streets.
"We celebrate pride every single day," Valle said. "Every day, someone is coming out. Every day, someone is beaten because of their identity. Every day, someone is thrown out of their home because they identify as queer. So, our work is not over and we must continue to be vigilant and unite as one as we move forward in our struggle."
With Andrew Davis