Chicagoans looking forward to Pride Month despite pandemic

Tue. April 28, 2020 11:13 AM by Ross Forman

betty who performs chicago pride fest 2019

photo credit // steven koch

June celebrations will have a new-look as events, including the Pride Parade, have been postponed or cancelled

Pride Month 2020 won't be anything close to what we're accustomed to.

Oh sure, we'll honor to LGBT legacy, somehow, as always, throughout the 30 days of June, but who knows yet how we'll be honoring and celebrating 51 years of gay rights and more – person to person, in groups of various size, or virtually.

Get out those red Solo cups or maybe some fine champagne glasses, Chicago definitely will celebrate Pride Month in June ...though no one knows how just yet as the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything, everywhere.

"With or without a pandemic, June remains Pride Month, a special time of celebration to think about our remarkable communities, the sacrifices we have made, the victories we have won, the ways we have contributed to our city and state," said Sidetrack co-owner Art Johnston. "Although we will not know for a while yet what form our celebrations may take, we should and we will celebrate, and not solely on June 28," the date of the now-postponed Pride Parade.

Modesto "Tico" Valle, the CEO of the Center on Halsted in Boystown, the heart of Chicago's LGBT community, added: "In many ways, I believe (Pride Month 2020) will be more meaningful as community has once again been caring for each other during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our community members should feel a deep and meaningful sense of Pride as we help each other through this crisis.  

"Our community is inventive and creative. I'm certain we will find ways to celebrate Pride. That will never be taken away from us. Pride is displayed and appreciated in many ways; we are a diverse community of (numerous) races, genders and cultures. We proudly show Pride throughout the year in various parades, festivals, and programs."

The June schedule is normally filled with, literally, 30 days of Pride-related events – from company events to annual brunches that unite friends in the hours before the parade steps off at noon in Uptown on its south-bound journey, ultimately ending in Lincoln Park.

Related: Chicago Pride Parade postponed for first time in 50-year history

June in Chicago is Midsommar Fest in Andersonville, the traditional kickoff to summer. But not in 2020.

June in Chicago is the annual Pride Fest from the Northalsted Business Alliance. But not in 2020, though organizers hope to reschedule this Pride celebration for Labor Day weekend, September 5-6.

Related: Chicago Pride Fest postponed, new dates announced for 2020

"Even though large gatherings are not being held this year during June, the hard work for visibility that each and every activist, event producer, festival and parade organizer, entertainer, bar staff member and community leader has demonstrated over the past 50 years is living energy and will carry us through this unanticipated change to originally planned programming," said Patrik Gallineaux, LGBT Manager & Ambassador for Stoli Group. "For me, Pride 2020 is a perfect time to reflect and be appreciative of all our community's collective past efforts."

Matt Herek, president of the predominantly-LGBT Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association (CMSA), noted that every Pride Month is a little different, sometimes for good reasons like the legalization of gay marriage, and sometimes for tragic reasons like the Pulse Nightclub shooting. "When you consider that the first Pride parade wasn't a parade at all, but (rather), a protest, it's clear that Pride has always been a celebration that reacts to circumstances," Herek said.

CMSA certainly had its June altered, too.

For instance, the inaugural Pride Softball Classic will now be played in June, 2021; and Pride Bowl XIII, the annual flag football tournament scheduled for June 26-27, has been rescheduled to August 7-8.

Related: CMSA amends 2020 schedule due to coronavirus pandemic

"I think we all had time to (prepare) for the reality that Chicago was not going to be ready to bring that many people together in one place for any cause," including the Pride Parade, a tradition locally on the last Sunday in June. "(However), when you hear the actual announcement (that it is not going to happen), you can't help but be a little crestfallen. That said, the parade is just an event, and right now it's one of many events being impacted across the world due to the pandemic. We have to keep that in perspective."

Paul Cannella, owner of Scarlet Bar in Boystown, admitted he was sad to hear about the postponement of the Pride Parade, but he wasn't shocked.

"We're in a situation that is still evolving. Huge events like this take a lot of planning for the organizers, the city, along with a lot of money. You can't move forward planning an event of such magnitude when there is such a high likelihood it will be canceled," he said in late-April.

Cannella's comments certainly hit home for Pride In The Park, which was scheduled to be 2-day Pride celebration in Grant Park June 27-28, with two stages in this, its second year.

"I am still very much looking forward to celebrating our Pride, even if it has to be done virtually," said Chicago-based DJ Cindel. "I am keeping my hopes up that we can have a Pride Parade later in the year, and this is just a postponement of our typical June celebration.

"We need to find ways to celebrate and keep (Pride) alive in our thoughts and actions," said Carolyn Pinta of The Pinta Pride Project, which runs the annual Buffalo Grove Pride in Chicago's northwest suburb.

BG Pride 2020, scheduled for June 7, also has been cancelled.

Related: Aurora Pride and Buffalo Grove Pride Parade postponed until 2021

"We are fortunate to be able to celebrate who we are openly every day in Chicago, which is not true in every other city in the U.S., not to mention other countries around the world. So it is important that this annual commemoration of the Stonewall Riots and birth of the gay rights movement continue to be celebrated in our city," said Chicago businessman Mark Liberson of LKH Management, which operates gay bars in Boystown and Andersonville. 

"Our community is resilient and creative, so I am confident that while it will be different, it will still be a special day in Chicago and we will unite together, perhaps with other cities, but we will be creating a virtual celebration. It's important that Pride continues to communicate both our celebration of who we are but can also be a part of our demanding that all communities throughout (the) country and world extend equal rights to LGBTQ+ citizens.

"It's sad (that the parade was postponed), but it is more important that our community remain apart and healthy so that we can unite together when this crisis ends and be there to celebrate in the future."

Brad Balof, general manager at Sidetrack, said: "We respect the local and state leaders who are consistently following the science and professional guidance around this situation. While it is hard, very hard, we know it is the right decision to make.

"Pride at Sidetrack is not just the last Sunday in June. Pride has grown into a whole month of celebrations and gatherings."

But boy does Chicago do Pride Month. Just consider a few of the June events at Sidetrack alone:

** Science and Slushies, when scientists from the Field Museum create a science fair at Sidetrack and share their work.

** Professionals Do Pride, when dozens of organizations including, United, Groupon, and Diageo have a professional cocktail hour. This event has grown to well over 800 participants.  

** Nominee Night, when Pride Films and Plays produces a Broadway-worthy cabaret show featuring performers nominated for the Jeff Awards. 

Valle from the Center on Halsted said that, on June 28, he plans to reflect how far the LGBT community has come – "and joyously celebrate with our community," though it likely will be virtually as Illinois' stay-at-home order is now through May 30.

Valle is still working daily at the Center during the quarantine – to make sure the services of the Center continue to be provided without interruption. The staff from the Center is working from their homes, continuing their care for the community.

"We taught the world once how to take care of our own. Today we are called to do so again. History will once again judge us as a caring community," Valle said. "These are times that no text book or class could ever prepare us for. But, I have faith that we will come out stronger in the end."

Cannella said that one noteworthy element of Chicago's vast Pride Month festivities is the out-of-towners who descend upon the city, particularly from cities, states and countries where flying a rainbow flag is not accepted.

"Coming to the Pride events is a chance to get lost in the crowd, be themselves, and enjoy their lives," Cannella said.

"It's kind of amazing how we've reached such a state of polarization in the world, but it took this virus to show us how connected we really are. We're still seeing the drumbeat to divide people politically, but I hope new leaders emerge that can bring people (everyone) together."

Cannella said that during this stay-at-home period, he has spent considerable time in the kitchen, leading to wide-ranging meals, excessive baking and even making his own pizza crust, and more. Pickling will be started soon, he added.

Herek is cautiously optimistic that brands which have supported Pride in recent years, be it with a float in the Parade or a section of Pride souvenirs for sale in their store, will continue.

"The best way I can celebrate Pride right now is to work with my (CMSA) colleagues to insure the continued existence of one of Chicago's long-serving LGBT organizations," Herek said. "We will remember (June 2020) as a time when the normal balm on our wounds during tragedies like sports, parades, etc. were also taken away and we had to find new ways to stay connected and support each other."

Cindel added: "The world has changed, and in some ways I believe permanently. We are experiencing an unprecedented event, and we all have to come together and try to overcome it will as little loss of life as possible. It can be hard to be optimistic at a time like this, but just remember that we are all in this together, and this will end as long as we stay strong now and do what is required."

That means Pride Month – and every other day, too – will be filled with such phrases as social-distancing, wash-your-hands, zoom-time, etc.

In Buffalo Grove, Pinta and her team are feverishly working toward June 7, still – for their Pride Drive. "Many homes in Buffalo Grove will host rainbow decor, treats, take-aways and learning experiences for families walking or driving by, and a map will be provided of homes to visit," said Pinta, who will have a DJ at her home.

Balloons by Tommy, always a bright light at the Chicago Pride Parade, will be involved in a lot of decorations in BG.

"We must learn from scientists what to expect and we must study the history of what happened during the Spanish Flu in 1918," Pinta said. "We must listen and follow rules and regulations to get safely through this time. Every person has those moments in time they carry with them forever. For me, it was 9/11. COVID19 certainly rivals that. Above all, we must help each other and spread kindness."

There are only two months (December and January) without a formal Pride organization producing a festival or parade weekend.

"The entire point of Pride is to bring visibility to the beauty, self-worth, diversity, and ultimately self-actualization of the LGBTQ+ community, which must become the norm for each and every person in the world, every second of every hour of every day," Gallineaux said. "Members of the LGTBQ+ community possess true superpowers of survival, creativity and leadership that we have had the opportunity to develop through adversity, and now deserve to thrive in roles of government, civic and business leadership without fear of oppression. I think LGBTQ+ people are especially well-poised to lead through the current crisis and into the future."

Sidetrack boasts a motto that has never been more appropriate: Proud Today, Proud Every Day!

And for Balof, the Pride Parade always has an extra special personal meaning, as it falls on or near his dad's birthday. "I've called him from the Sidetrack float moments before the parade stepped-off to wish him a happy birthday. I look forward to calling my dad on the last Sunday in June," he said.

Balof also has been working hard in the kitchen over the past month-plus, doing a lot of new cooking.

Sidetrack has created a lot of online content that it probably wouldn't have done otherwise, including Show Tune Count Down Videos with Dixie Lynn Cartwright and Insta Live Staff Cocktail Hours.  

Johnston and his husband, Pepe Pena, have spent their stay-at-home time looking through 47 years of photos and other memories of gay life in Chicago. "I now feel even more fortunate to have been a part of this creative, loving, resilient, stubborn (and) valiant community. And I know we will get through this pandemic as we got through the far more deadly plague of AIDS, which stole a whole generation of our loved ones from a world that did not care that we were dying," Johnston said. "We taught the world how to live and love in the time of plague, how to build community, how to care for each other. We can teach those lessons again."

Gallineaux said his Pride Month celebration will include taking the time to reflect and remember to be grateful. "Even though my original plans are now canceled or postponed, this is a perfect time to remember that without the sacrifices of so many, the opportunity to openly celebrate with people whom I love would not even be an option," he said. "Also, I have an amazing role representing an iconic brand as their LGBTQ+ Ambassador and am encouraged by companies like Stoli who continuously support the LGBTQ+ community. We need to be careful to avoid a sense of entitlement and to appreciate the past while being resourceful in the present. Soon enough we'll be able to enjoy life experiences like Pride festivities again and they will be more meaningful than ever."

Gallineaux has plans to support and cheer during as many virtual Pride events as possible.

"This is a small blip in a vast timeline," he said. "I actually wrote myself a letter, sealed it and marked, 'Open April 15, 2021.' Just like how quickly Christmas seems to return, I know when I open that letter it will be hard to believe a year will have gone by. But for now, be safe, stay home, tell people close to you that you love them, and don't be afraid to start researching and dreaming up plans for events and travel when we are past this time safely."

Gallineaux, during his stay-at-home stint, has sewn a series of Stoli masks for himself.

But, for maybe businesses in the LGBT community and beyond, the strife is real, the sadness is profound and the future is bleak, at best.

"I said from day one (that) there will be winners and losers," Cannella said. "New businesses will be formed, areas of some will boom, and innovative leaders will find a way to profit. Getting down to specifics for me, having your bar closed and 20 people out of work at the flash of a press conference was horrible on many levels. When you're not in control, and decisions are handed to you that you must immediately react to, well, the pressure is hard to describe. It took a little time and maneuvering, but I think we're going to be on the winner's side."

Cannella also owns and operates, which has endured both ends of the stay-at-home order. They saw an immediate drop in sales from large retailers that were closing as deemed essential business.

Conversely, online sales have skyrocketed.

"The changes to come for business overall will be evolving for quite some time," Cannella said. "But, if there is one city that you don't have to worry about, it's Chicago. Chicagoans are tough mother F'ers! Albeit video and digital connections can't replace human contact, I think friends and family find themselves talking more often and for longer periods of time. Whether it's happy hour drinks, virtual Taco Tuesday, or just catching up, connecting with people is key to getting through this. When faced with a situation, I always ask how will I view this a year from today? Was it a big deal? Will it derail you? Or will it pass? There is a future, and it can be bright. With that said, we'll be talking about this, and paying for it, for a long, long time."

Liberson acknowledged that many independent small businesses, bars and restaurants may not survive the crisis, if the government doesn't come up with more effective support than what has been offered so far. 

"The PPP program, for example, really doesn't work if businesses are shut down, as 75 percent of the money awarded under the program must be used for payroll, and all of the money must be spent within 8 weeks of receiving it to have this loan be forgiven by the government," Liberson said. "That would be great if the support was happening when businesses were reopening and perhaps operating at lower than normal volume levels while the economy is restarting, but that is not the reality of the moment. 

"People need to communicate to federal officials and let them know that they value the small businesses of our community and that the government must communicate with us, not the 500 employee sized companies that they define as small business, and develop programs to protect the main streets of our cities," he added. 

A number of virtual Pride events are planned for June, check back for updates. 

Related: A list of relief funds for Boystown bars, restaurants and employees

Chicago LGBTQ COVID-19 Resources