The 43rd annual Chicago Pride Parade steps off today at Noon from Broadway and Montrose in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood. The parade lead by marriage activist will head south through Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood including Boystown. Chicago Pride Parade undergoes biggest changes in 25 years
Huge changes are in store for parade this year, including a new route, new neighborhoods and more accessibility, all with one thing in mind.
"The bottom line was the safety of the people," said Parade Coordinator Richard Pfeiffer.
Attendance at the parade swelled in recent years, with some estimating that 750,000 spectators flooded into Boystown to watch the parade last year. That created big problems for parade organizers, police and the spectators themselves.
"We had such a problem at the corner of Halsted and Belmont, for one," Pfeiffer said.
This year, the parade begins in Uptown at Broadway and Montrose, going south on Broadway to Halsted and Grace. From there, it goes south on Halsted to Belmont, then east on Belmont to Broadway, south on Broadway to Diversey, then east on Diversey to Cannon Drive.
Pfeiffer said the changes should please some people who wanted more viewing options than the crowded sidewalks in Boystown.
"Some people love the crowds on Halsted and some don't," Pfeiffer said. "The new stretch on Broadway is tree-lined and there's more room on the sidewalks."
With the parade now coming south through Uptown and Buena Park, Pfeiffer added, spectators who want to watch it there can use two Red Line L stations, Sheridan and Wilson, that previously weren't close to the parade route.
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) Officials review new parade route, discuss crackdown on public drinking
Alderman Tom Tunney (44th Ward), Alderman James Cappleman (46th Ward) and Chicago Pride Parade Organizer Rich Pfeiffer held a press conference Tuesday to explain the new route and safety plan.
"Last year, beautiful weather and a strong sense of community brought nearly 750,000 people to the Lakeview neighborhood to celebrate the annual Pride Parade," said Alderman Tunney. "As a City, we knew that meant some big changes needed to take place to keep this parade safe and welcoming."
The parade route will be lined with barricades on both sides of the street from beginning to the end of the parade route. Spectators will be required to remain behind the barricades.
After stepping off at noon, the 200 registered entries will take approximately two and one-half hours to finish crossing the Broadway & Montrose corner.
The organizers and elected officials also discussed the continued concern of alcohol being consumed at the public parade.
"To all those potential spectators: this year, keep a lid on it. Leave those coolers at home and bring a water bottle instead. Or else you run the risk of getting a hefty ticket from Chicago Police, or a trip to lock-up," said Alderman Tunney.
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) Wolfson, used to leading the charge for marriage, leads Chicago Pride parade
Evan Wolfson has probably had marriage equality on his mind for much longer than most people. It was the subject of his thesis in his final year at Harvard Law School, and has been a central focus of his legal career—so much so, in fact, that he's been called the "Godfather of Gay Marriage."
So this month Wolfson, founder of the marriage equality advocacy organization Freedom to Marry, will have that commitment recognized when he serves as Grand Marshall of the 2012 Chicago Pride Parade.
"I've spent a lot of time in Chicago and have a lot of friends there," said Wolfson, who lives in New York City. "But this is even more exciting to me because Illinois right now is one the states at the forefront for marriage equality."
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)Forty-three years of Pride started June 28, 1969
It started like it always did. A handful of cops stormed into a small, packed bar full of LGBT people and began lining them up. They separated the drag queens so female officers could feel them up to determine if they were men dressed as women. The police wagons pulled up and the cops started loading the bar patrons into them.
But this night, June 28, 1969, the patrons didn't follow the script. Instead, as a crowd began to gather outside the Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich Village, the drag queens and others who were supposed to meekly submit to the usual police harassment fought back. The next day thousands flocked to the street outside the bar to signal that, once and for all, LGBT people would keep fighting, proud and loud, for freedom from harassment and discrimination.
The Stonewall Riots changed New York but they had an impact far beyond the banks of the Hudson. A year after the riots LGBT activists in Chicago and Los Angeles went on the march to mark the anniversary of the New York uprising and to assert that LGBTs everywhere would no longer accept second-class treatment.
Thus, a tradition was born, one that's been celebrated in Chicago on the last weekend of June ever since. In those 43 years, the celebration has changed. Those first Pride parades in Chicago weren't parades as much as defiant political statements. And those who march, watch and celebrate have swelled from hundreds to hundreds of thousands. But, at its core, Pride is still a political, cultural and social statement that LGBT people are equal in every way and expect to be treated that way.
There is a lot more to celebrate now, thanks to the pioneering activism of those first marchers and others who've toiled to overturn every vestige of discrimination. This year will be the first under a U.S. president who supports our right to marry, a president who hails from Chicago at that. And members of the U.S. Armed Forces can march openly with pride this year without fear of being discharged.
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) Gary Barlow and Matt Simonette contributed to this report.Related: Live stream provides front row seat to Chicago Pride ParadeRelated: Chicago Pride Parade line of march released