Taking the temperature of Chicago’s Pride Parade in era of Trump
Portraits of the Orlando, Fla., nightclub shooting victims are carried at the beginning of the 47th annual Chicago Pride Parade on June 26, 2016, on Halsted Street. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune)
Last year, Chicago’s Pride Parade was mournful, coming just two weeks after the vicious mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where 49 people were killed. Before that, same-sex couples celebrated a Supreme Court ruling holding that they had a constitutional right to marry nationwide.
This year, gay pride celebrations across the country have been marked by frustration at the state of politics in Washington, particularly President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind a key Obama directive that allowed transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice.
Some officials wonder whether this Sunday’s parade in Chicago, themed "Viva la Vida/Stand Up, Stand Proud," will follow suit.
"Well, we have a new president," said Ald. Tom Tunney, whose 44th Ward is home to most of the parade and many of the events leading up to it. "It will be interesting to see how the public reacts in this new era."
In Los Angeles, the city’s decades-old pride parade was replaced with a "resist march," and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., led chants to impeach the president.
"There are so many issues on the front burner right now, and I think you’ll see that reflected," said Richard Pfeiffer, Chicago’s Pride Parade coordinator. "Since the change in Washington in November, LGBT people and others have been marginalized verbally and in other ways. There’s anger over that."
Pfeiffer said more than 250,000 people are expected along the parade route, and nearly 1 million could move in and out of the area surrounding the parade throughout the day.
As in the past, officers from the Chicago Police Department will be omnipresent along the parade route, which will begin at the corner of Montrose Avenue and Broadway in Uptown.
Officials said they will follow a security playbook similar to last year’s, when hundreds of additional Chicago police officers were stationed throughout Pride Fest and at the Pride Parade following the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Rich Guidice, first deputy director for the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, said the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security will also play a role.
"There will be a visible presence of police on the scene," Guidice said. "Some you’ll see and some you won’t, but we have enough to ensure a safe event."
Tunney said police and security guards will be too numerous to count.
"The police presence will be similar to last year’s. And last year’s was extraordinary," Tunney said. "It’s a big weekend. It’s gone from 2,000 people at its beginning to more than a million. It’s become a parade for everybody. And I think that shows how we have more in common than we have apart."
Thousand Waves, a martial arts and self-defense center in the Lakeview neighborhood, was scheduled to host a self-defense workshop for members of the LGBT community on June 17, but it was canceled because of a lack of participants.
Ryan Libel, the center’s executive director, said that is not necessarily bad news.
While self-defense workshops tend to teeter around 20 participants, Libel said bystander intervention classes have increased to more than 50. He believes more people want to stick up for minority communities.
"It’s definitely a quantifiable demand," Libel said. "We’ve seen a really beautiful wave of support for underserved communities across the board. There is an increased appetite for standing with marginalized groups."
June is Pride Month, a time when the LGBTQ community across the United States celebrates with rallies, artistic performances, street fairs and, especially in cities like Chicago, gigantic, lengthy parades complete with floats, waving politicos and lots of flags flying. And I’m not just talking the star-spangledbanner — the rainbowflag will surely be everywhere.
This flag, instantly recognizable for its distinctive rows of brightly colored stripes, was created in 1978 by the late Gilbert Baker. It has become, in the words of an April 2017 story by my Tribune colleague Rex Huppke, the "international symbol of gay pride."
But just as the communities under the LGBTQ banner are more numerous than the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer identities used in the LGBTQ abbreviation (check out my story on how the number of letters may be growing), so, too, are the flags proudly waved to represent the pride of various constituent groups, from the leather community to those who identify as intersex. A Google search showed a number of these flags have been further customized by different subgroups within each community, so variety abounds.
Chicago’s 48th annual Pride Parade kicks off at noon June 25. Here’s a visual lexicon of some of the flags you might see along the parade route this month. (For more flags, check out Quoices.org, which bills itself as "a home for the voices and the stories of the queer community, as well as providing information on queer topics and culture."
What happens if you’re at a Pride event or parade, spot a flag and don’t know what it stands for? Well, I’d politely ask the people around you wherever you are and see if they have an answer.
— Bill Daley
Recalling the battles for equality — and knowing that some continue — has been an enduring theme over the years during pride events. This year is no different.
On Wednesday at Daley Plaza, American Veterans for Equal Rights hosted a salute to LGBT veterans.
"I was tired of seeing gay people kicked out of the military for no reason," said Jim Darby, 85, who started AVER’s Chicago chapter 25 years ago.
"When I was in the military, gay people were disappearing and I didn’t know where they were going, but I told myself that it couldn’t be that bad. I didn’t get concerned until I left. I felt guilty. I should have been kicked out."
After leaving the military, where he served as a Russian translator during the Korean War, Darby was able to take advantage of the GI Bill. He graduated from college and taught languages for more than 30 years in Chicago Public Schools on the South Side.
Darby was arrested outside the White House while protesting "don’t ask, don’t tell" in 1993, and he and his partner of 54 years, Patrick Bova, were the lead plaintiffs in Lambda Legal’s successful marriage equality lawsuit against the state of Illinois in 2014.
In 2011, "don’t ask, don’t tell" — a policy barring gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military — was lifted. And last year, the Pentagon ended the ban on transgender men and women serving openly in the military.
Darby said he was overwhelmed with how quickly things changed.
"We’ve come so far," Darby said. "But I know we have some unkind politicians, and that’s putting it mildly, and, at the end of the day, we still have a lot of work to do."