In a city where eye contact and human acknowledgement are typically nonexistent among passers-by, Sunday’s festivities brought 500,000 Chicagoland strangers together in friendly, boisterous community.
As the Gay Pride Parade snaked through the streets surrounding the Caribou Coffee where I work, I stood outside trying to soak in the unbelievable atmosphere. In a few words, I was in complete awe of my surroundings.
President Barack Obama has declared June “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month,” encouraging all Americans to “fight prejudice and discrimination in their own lives and everywhere it exists.”
In Chicago, hundreds of gay and allied individuals and community organizations host events throughout the month: rallies and parties to celebrate unity, memorials to honor those lost to hate crimes, and, on the last Sunday, an enormous, two-hour parade through the streets of Boystown, the city’s largest gay community.
Before I say anything about my personal Pride Parade experience, I want to clarify that I don’t intend to use this column to drastically alter anyone’s view of the homosexual lifestyle. I simply hope to further humanize the gay community by sharing a few of the positive encounters I had with some of its members.
Sunday’s Pride Parade was my first “real” parade, other than the occasional Fourth of July celebration I saw growing up in Hillsboro. This was absolutely unlike anything I could have ever conjured up in my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in one place before.
The parade lasted more than two hours, with group after group traipsing through the streets dressed in bright colors, beaming brightly, and holding rainbow-striped flags. These flags were seriously everywhere. Teams of 15 people might each hold sections of an enormous flag as they walked together, or young children might be sitting atop their parents’ shoulders, waving pint-sized flags.
I found that observing the bystanders on the sidewalk was actually more interesting than watching the parade participants themselves. Right outside my Caribou, a deaf and gay boy was wearing bright green sunglasses, a bright yellow V-neck shirt, electric blue brief underwear and green high-top sneakers.
No pants. Apparently this is normal for Pride.
He walked back and forth in front of the store, happy as could be, passing out rainbow-flag sugar cookies he had made. He offered one to every single person who passed his little station, never failing to give everyone a genuine smile. Where is that kind of joy, thoughtfulness and charity in everyday life?
I also felt inspired by some of the people I saw walking in the parade. Not everyone who walked past was either gay or promoting an agenda. A great number of parents walked in clusters, holding signs that said things like, “I’m walking today because I love my gay sons and I am proud of them,” or, “I’m proud of my daughter and ‘daughter-in-love.’”
A whole school bus passed, full of children holding signs that read, “I love my two dads,” and, “My moms rock!” These signs made me smile when I realized that any of the people next to me could be the son/daughter/mother/father to which a sign referred.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Chicago can be a pretty lonely place. There are hundreds of people everywhere you go, but most of them can’t usually be bothered to give a friendly “hello” or simple nod of the head to a fellow human.
Sunday’s festivities created an electric atmosphere, one where everyone felt welcome. I’m sure at least a small part of the excitement can be attributed to loud parade music and alcohol, but I am positive that much of it was related to Pride Month’s theme of kindness and acceptance toward all people, regardless of their sexual orientations, genders, races, weights, interests, hobbies, jobs or disabilities. During the Pride Parade, everyone is a rock star.
I realize not every day can feature a Pride Parade, but Sunday’s atmosphere proved to me that a better world—one full of true acceptance and love—may not be as elusive as we once thought.