Pride Night at the Shedd Aquarium—If fishes can coexist, so can we

Tue. June 18, 2019 2:48 PM by Jan Bernabe

pride night at the shedd aquarium

photo credit // shedd aquarium/eva ho
Celebrating pride at the Shedd Aquarium may not be the first event that comes to mind during this historic pride month. That didn't stop the over 500 pride-goers, and dare we say, sea animal enthusiasts from heading to the Shedd on Friday, June 14. Joining them were state and municipal representatives, including Susana Mendoza, the Illinois Comptroller and former gubernatorial candidate, and JB Pritzker, the current governor of Illinois. Representatives from LGBTQ-focused nonprofits like Equality Illinois and the Howard Brown Center also joined the celebration.

In a riveting speech about what Pride month still matters, Equality Illinois' Public Policy Director Mike Ziri described the legacy of the Stonewall Rebellion that happened 50 years ago this year and connected those fearless transgender and gender-nonconforming pioneers who stood up to police harassment and violence to the present day. Pride matters still matter post-marriage equality, Ziri noted, because the work of bringing equality in all aspects of society to LGBTQ folks has not finished. An example that Ziri noted was a transgender person from Carbondale, Illinois, who drives five hours to Chicago to access medical treatment at Howard Brown. Moreover, Pride continues to matter because, as Ziri noted, notably transgender women of color continue to be targets of transphobic violence and murders.

Illinois state comptroller Susana Mendoza reminisced back to her own upbringing when her father would take her and her siblings to the Shedd Aquarium or the Field Museum to keep his children out of danger. To her family, these spaces were safe havens. They continue to be safe havens for younger and older people alike. Pride night at the Shedd exemplifies the commitment of the Shedd to implement programming that serves the diversity of Illinoisans and Chicagoans alike. As a way to introduce JB Pritzker, Mendoza pointed out the vast differences between the "indifference" she placed on Governor Rauner in not passing legislation that were LGBTQ-affirming or anti-discriminatory and the work that Governor JB Pritzker has done in the last five months to sign historic legislation that affirms and benefits LGBTQ residents of Illinois and to sign a balanced state budget.

It was a full-circle moment for Governor Pritzker as he recounted in his humorous way his engagement to his wife at the Shedd Aquarium over 20 years ago that didn't go as easily as he had hoped. Noting the time of his engagement at the Shedd and his then support of the LGBTQ community, a time that did not see popular support of the community, Pritzker noted that the state has come a long way since the 1990s. Citing his administration's successes in the last five months, like the expansion of Medicare to cover gender transitions, passing an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum bill, the passage of gender-neutral bathroom in the state of Illinois, and others, Pritzker noted that these accomplishments are shining examples of how he envisions Illinois as a bastion of hope and equality.

Pritker's acts as a governor seem to correspond to a new level affirmation and welcoming to LGBTQ issues, unlike previous administrations. Diversity and inclusion is on the forefront of Pritker's modus operandi, and he was none the happier joining celebrants at the Shedd for selfies and listening to LGBTQ event-goers after his talk.

The Shedd seemed an apt location join LGBTQ folks and allies to celebrate pride with for the governor. If real-world models of diversity are needed to see people from all walks of life can coexist together symbiotically, the models were right inside the aquariums at the Shedd. If the varying species of fish could coexist together in one fish tank, we might heed their actions and see what we can do to do the same during this Pride month and beyond. We look forward to next year's night of Pride at the Shedd!