Chicago Pride Parade 2019: The Drama

posted by Madame Bubby

I was there. It was humid and crowded, and luckily I was standing near some hot shirtless guys with cute asses. Nothing terribly exciting or, to be honest, much different from previous years, even if it was celebrating 50 years since Stonewall.
 

Chicago Pride Parade balloons
Photo Credit: Time Out Chicago

I left early to cool down in a friend's apartment, and soon the floodgates opened. Literally. Severe thunderstorms moved in, accompanied by torrential rains. To obtain updates, I was following CWB Chicago on Twitter as the drama was occurring. Attendees were ordered by the police to first shelter in place, and then evacuate. Ultimately, the parade was, to use the unfortunate language of the police, “terminated.” In the 49 years of its existence, as far as I know, this parade was never rained on. Never.

Luckily, my friend and I were ensconced on the couch watching the delayed broadcast of the parade during the monsoon.

We waited until the sun had emerged, about 4:30 p.m, to emerge ourselves to check out the situation.

I already knew from the updates that this unprecedented event causes situations of violence, and, according to a witnesses, overall “weirdness.”

For example, a local Walgreens and CVS wanted to lock their doors because of the onslaught of persons fleeing the rain. In the parking lot of the Walgreens, persons were jumping on cars (this behavior has happened before at events), but in the case, the crowd was larger and overall more violent.
 

Jumping on cars, Chicago Pride Parade
Photo Credit: CWB Chicago

Police said two people were arrested in separate incidents for slapping police horses after the parade had stopped. For example, acccording to CWB Chicago, Wagdi Elgosbi, 28, approached a police horse in the 3200 bock of North Clark around 5:20 p.m. and asked the officer riding it if he could pet the animal. When the officer denied his request, Elgosbi slapped the horse in its face, police said in an arrest report. (Unacceptable!)

And, something both violent and, to be truthful, weird occurred at Chicago Comics (complete story available here). A woman burst into the store, begging for someone to call the police. A gang of twenty plus teenagers burst in, vanadalizing the store, and they sprayed the woman with pepper spray. The group fled when they heard the sirens. The police arrived, and the woman was taken away in an ambulance.
 

Mess in Chicago Comics
Photo Credit: Chicago Comics Facebook Page

Now, just listing incidents in this fashion doesn't really prove much specifically. Violence has occurred in the wake of this event before (and tends to occur at public celebrations, no matter who puts them on), but the above behavior appear to be more noteworthy, whatever that means.

And certainly noteworthy was the twerking trend occurring this year. Any object could be “twerked,” according to this compilation.

I realize for some time there's been much controversy, mostly racially-charged, around claims about groups of teenagers not from the local area creating problems in the Boystown area.

I also think one could gain a more accurate and perhaps even inspiring context for this situation by recounting what happened to my friend and I after we left the apartment.

In a quest for food, we stopped at a casual joint called Windy City Gyros. The place was full of openly gay teenagers, racially diverse. Yes, openly gay, girls holding hands, one guy with his arm draped around the shoulder of another guy. This was a place where they could be open, safe. I can't imagine that behavior occurring when I was in high school in the 1970s, anywhere.
 

 

Windy City Gyros interior
Photo Credit: TripAdvisor.com

And, I do understand the serious issues with police presence at such events, especially at an event which commemorates a movement that began as a protest against the police, but a couple police guys casually went into the place to sit down and eat. Imagine how different this situation might have been in the 1970s and 1980s. During that period, the police might have been there because the owners would be calling them about the deviants.

The boundary between celebration and violence, and self-expression and psychological disturbance, is fluid, especially at events whose purpose and history, however that history may be subsumed or diluted, is a stand against repressive hierarchies.

I decry the violence that occurred in a place previous generations built to be safe and open (including for twerking) for the future: LGBTQ youth.

Perhaps, 50 years after Stonewall, we need to realize that it's not justice or rights in the abstract we need to work for, but with persons in all their moment by moment, often messy, complexity.

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Early Chicago Pride Parades: A Reflection

posted by Madame Bubby

Four million persons are expected to be at Stonewall 50 in New York City. The 48th annual Chicago Gay Pride Parade in Chicago promises to be quite impressive too, one big party.

Even in these times of turmoil in the United States when the human rights of so many are becoming increasingly precarious, LGBTQ communities are still strong and vibrant. And note that in Brazil, now run by the virulently homophobic Jair Bolsonaro, the São Paulo parade attracted three million persons.

But in the years right after Stonewall, the parades were not the carnivalesque events they are today. They were militant liberation marches, risky on so many levels for the participants. These early parades were attended by only a few hundred people and received little official notice.
 

1976 Chicago Pride Parade

1976 Chicago Pride Parade

The first gay pride march and rally took place in Chicago on June 27, 1970, just one year after Stonewall.

The original parade went from Bughouse Square, right on the dividing line between River North and Old Town. From that point, a small crowd marched down the Mag Mile to the Daley Center.

According to an article by Emmet Sullivan, about 150 people participated. He notes:

The Chicago Tribune ran a 75-word blurb about the event on the third page of its June 28 edition, noting that it ended with festgoers circling the Picasso statue in the plaza and shouting, “Gay power to gay people.” By 1973, the parade had moved its starting point to Belmont Harbor. The “gay liberationists” leading the charge numbered 300, according to the Tribune.
 

Chicago Tribune 1971 Pride Parade Article

1971 Chicago Pride Parade

The parade then bounced between a few routes, mostly around Belmont Harbor and the intersection of Clark and Diversey, at that time developing as Chicago's gay neighborhood.

I remember inadvertently going to that parade in the 1980s (as I went to the old Great Ace hardware store at Clark and Diversey), which by that time attracted thousands rather than hundreds of people. In my naivete, all I remembered were hot shirtless guys holding signs, whose message and import escaped me, especially when a hunky guy with a big mustache marching in the parade came up to me and let me grab his nipple (part of my gradual coming out experience).

I now know that by that time, the AIDS crisis was in full swing and the heady days of liberation were over. The community, with a new-found strength, faced down death and chose life.

Without those brave persons in the 1970s, who literally risked their lives as persons living in the supposedly equal society of America by marching in public, the fabric of a community would not have been strong enough to band together and ensure that those who died would be remembered. And to fight for and with the survivors who would make the memorial quilts.

Maybe in these times when the hashtag #NeverAgain is so apropos, we need to think of this Pride Month kind of like Passover. We remember the nights of oppression, and we remember the days of liberation. But in this case, we saved ourselves. Perhaps it's time to do some more saving.

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