Pride Parade participants celebrate strides, protest hurdles
Marchers waving rainbow flags, dressed in drag or wearing costumes of colorful balloon sculptures paraded in Chicago on Sunday, celebrating the strides the LGBT community has made and protesting the hurdles that have been put up against them.
The city’s 48th Annual Pride Parade got started more than six hours ahead of its noon kickoff, when drivers towed empty and unfinished floats to their starting points at Montrose Avenue and Broadway. The drivers’ pickup trucks and SUVs were dwarfed by the oversized, sparkling chariots they would later pull down the parade route.
"You’ve got to wake up early," said Cassandra White, who arrived with a float at 4 a.m. and was grilling bratwurst and peppers for breakfast. "But it’s worth it. You get to meet so many interesting people."
Richard Goss said he has been towing floats in Chicago for more than 30 years.
"When they’re throwing candy, that’s the nightmare scenario for drivers, because you have to watch out for kids jumping in front to get it," Goss said. "Don’t even think about looking in your rearview mirror. You look forward."
For White, the view from behind the steering wheel is as good as being in the crowd.
"Just because you’re the driver, you think the people in the parade don’t see you," White said. "But they’re giving you beads, giving you water. You’re part of it. It’s amazing."
With less than 20 minutes to go before the parade began, marchers began forming lines. Some were told to stick together — they would look their best if they stayed in a pack. Others, though, came to stand out from the crowd.
The 48th annual Chicago Pride Parade steps off in Chicago on June 25, 2017. More than 250,000 people were expected to line the 4-mile route.
David Scherer composed himself. He moved his hands down his dress, checked his makeup and bent down to inspect his shoes: a pair of bright red, suede high heels.
"They don’t fit me," he laughed. "The toe is stuffed to the brim with tissue."
Scherer was one of the hundreds of parade-goers dressed in drag Sunday. Many spent hours on their makeup (some even got it done professionally). They chose the glitziest dresses. There were ’50s sock hop-style swing dresses, tight-fitting miniskirts and sequined mermaid evening gowns.
But the outfit isn’t complete without a pair of stilettos.
"If you’re going to do it, do it right," said Arielo Vento, who planned to walk the 4-mile parade route in his pair of 2-inch, sparkly shoes.
"I’ll be all right," he said. "They’re sensible heels. I left my big girls at home."
As parade floats moved onto Broadway, Jacquiline Perry gave the cheering crowds a regal wave.
Perry had arrived early in the morning with other members of the Chicago Gender Society, a transgender support group, to perfect their float.
"This is our 30th anniversary, and it’s amazing because we are No. 13 in the parade — and we’re normally in the back," said Perry, who is transgender and served as president of the society for five years.
Last year, Perry said, her float was the only one flying the transgender flag of five light blue, light pink and white stripes. Before the parade began, she said she hoped there would be more recognition for transgender people this year.
"People know more now than they used to," Perry said. "For years and years, we were on the front lines of the fight for LGBT equality. Alone. People care more now."
With multicolor balloons strapped to her back to look like wings, Dawn Lacy batted her rainbow-hued eyelashes and took pictures with strangers.
Lacy has marched in about 20 pride parades to support her brother, who is gay.
"It’s wonderful how over the years the city has come to embrace this parade," she said.
The Chicago parade was just one of many gay pride celebrations scheduled this weekend in cities across the U.S., including Nashville, New York, St. Louis and San Francisco.
As in the past, officers from the Chicago Police Department were omnipresent along the parade route. They walked up and down congested sidewalks and leaned against storefronts. Groups of half-dozens manned barricades at intersections, controlling the flow of spectators on Halsted Street.
City officials told the Tribune last week that the visible police were just a fragment of the security. Officers with long guns could be seen on the rooftops of buildings that lined the parade route, while plainclothes officers wandered among the crowds below.
Ald. Tom Tunney, whose 44th Ward is home to most of the parade route, said the city followed a security playbook similar to last year’s, when hundreds of additional police officers bolstered the security presence following the shootings at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
"They’re too numerous to count," Tunney said.
Near the corner of Broadway and Diversey Parkway — the beginning of the parade’s final stretch — a group of religious protestors had made camp. They carried signs that read "Homo sex is sin."
Any objections they voiced, though, were muffled by members of the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches, a group of christian churches that support members of the LGBT community. The group sang the song "This Little Light of Mine" as they passed the protestors.
"These people are suffering because of their anger and their fear," said the Rev. Jacki Belile, a Baptist minister and member of the organization.
"We want to make sure that members of the LGBT community know that these people, who say they speak the word of God, that they do not represent all Christianity."
In the Dyke March on Saturday in Little Village, some Jewish participants were asked to leave, according to a statement by the AJC, a Jewish advocacy group. Organizers had not issued a statement Sunday. But numerous Jewish Star of David flags flew in the Pride Parade without incident.
Near the end of the parade route, the stream of floats and marchers flowing into Lincoln Park slowed to a trickle. But the jubilee was expected to continue into the early morning hours, as marchers migrated to Boystown neighborhood bars to celebrate.
At the corner of Diversey Parkway and Lakeview Avenue, one spectator turned to a police officer and asked: "What happens now?"
"Now," she responded, "they party."