Chicago's Pride Month was full of love, celebration and unity

Tue. July 9, 2024 7:33 AM by News Staff

53rd annual chicago pride parade

photo credit // steven koch

'Our community, along with a few enlightened allies, has made Chicago into the gay-friendly place it is today. We all have a lot to be proud of,' says long-time activist Art Johnston

How fitting, Art Johnston and Jose Pepe Peña were in the spotlight for two marquee Pride Month events – one on June 1st and one on June 30th.

Johnston and Peña, co-owners of the popular gay bar Sidetrack Chicago, have been together for almost 50 years – and they anchored the civil rights movement that is still strong today.

They performed the “Glass Break,” the ceremonial beginning of the Chicago Fire’s Pride Month activities at their home match June 1st against the LA Galaxy.

The Fire won that night at Soldier Field, 2-1, amid a slew of rainbow activities and activations, such as, the first 5,000 fans who attended the Pride Tailgate received the Fire’s Pride Night giveaway item, a Pride crossbody clear bag. Major League Soccer (MLS) and Adidas once again partnered to design this year’s Love Unites Pride Top, designed by Pabllo Vittar, which was worn by Fire players during warm-ups. The National Anthem was performed by the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus.

To culminate Pride Month on Sunday, June 30th, Johnston and Pena were the Community Grand Marshals for the 2024 Chicago Pride Parade, which attracted more than 1 million to the North Side for the 53rd annual event, which remains one of the largest parades in Chicago despite being cut down to 150 entrants and a shorter route.

Themed “Pride is Power,” the parade was a rainbow of love, celebration, unity and community for the LGBTQ+ community.

“It was a special pleasure for Pep and me to help lead our very important parade down all these Chicago streets we have walked for over 50 years,” Johnston said. “Our community, along with a few enlightened allies, has made Chicago into the gay-friendly place it is today. We all have a lot to be proud of.”

Comedian Fortune Feimster and her wife, Jax Smith, will serve as the parade’s Celebrity Grand Marshals. The two met at Chicago Pride in 2015, just days after the Supreme Court’s historic ruling for nationwide marriage equality.

LGBTQ activists and high-profile transgender couple Myles and Precious Brady-Davis joined Johnston and Peña as Community Grand Marshals.

Mike Miller, CEO of Big Gay Sal’s Pizza in Lakeview, said being a part of the 2024 Chicago Pride Parade “was an absolute rush.”

“Seeing the joy and excitement in the faces of all the attendees was truly heartwarming,” Miller said. “We felt the vibrant energy of the crowd and are beyond grateful to be in the heart of such a loving and supportive community.”

Miller said co-owner and chef Salvador Mora Servin, aka Sal, was joined at the parade by his parents, which was “an incredibly special moment,” Miller said. “The joy in their eyes as they witnessed our Sal’s business’s success and how the community has embraced us was heartwarming. Seeing their pride and happiness warmed my heart and made the day even more unforgettable.”

Francisco Lopez, the marketing director for LKH Management, which runs multiple gay bars, including Hydrate Nightclub, said this year’s parade was “short and sweet.”

“We loved the changes made to the 2024 Chicago Pride Parade,” Lopez said. “It was great seeing a diverse group of people come together to celebrate Pride. What stood out to us was how many new faces this year’s parade brought to Chicago.”

Ricky Martel, of The Second City Outlaws, said the 2024 Chicago Pride Parade was “a wonderful opportunity to fully enjoy the festivity of LGBTQIA+ allyship in a huge crowd and party atmosphere.”

“I don’t want to see the city tamper with (the parade) any further or undermine its growth. The planners of the Chicago Pride Parade did an amazing job pulling it all together and they deserve to be praised and supported.”

Martel said the TV coverage of the event was better than ever.

“ABC-7 really put in the effort to capture ALL of it and not just highlights,” he said.

Martel and his mates were, naturally, country dancing through the parade, among other Pride Month events.

“I have nothing but thanks and appreciation for all who make Pride Month events happen, and thanks for allowing the Second City Outlaws to be a part of the celebrations,” Martel said. “Pride Month is hugely important as it brings together all the letters in LGBTQIA and all the colors that we are adding to the rainbow. In a world where there are constant forces trying to pit groups against each other, it is more important than ever that we look to everyone in a spirit of inclusivity and we step up to be active allies supporting each other.”

Lopez noted the solid lineup of DJs who delivered their sounds at Hydrate and elsewhere during Pride Month, including Joe Pacheco, Deanne, Dani Brasil, Ben Bakson, Alex Acosta, Allan Natal, and local DJs Martin, X-tasy, Laura B, and VJ George G. “We were also happy to conclude a strong season of Fresh Faces bringing new drag talent to North Halsted,” Lopez said.

Matthew Harvat, aka, CircuitMOM of CircuitMOM Productions, said Pride Month was incredible, as June included parties for their team in Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago and their debut in Mexico City. “It was one for the record books,” Harvat said. “So many new faces, new venues, partnerships and places that just all felt uplifting and inspiring. I am beyond grateful for my community and the opportunities given to us to share our controlled chaos not only during Pride, but all year long.”

CircuitMOM was part of Chicago Pride Fest after 19 years.

“Doing our CircuitMOM Takeover on the Waveland stage on Saturday night with DJ Alex Lo and two CircuitMOM performances felt like a homecoming,” Harvat said. “I hope Pride Fest has us back next year.”

 Harvat added: “Everywhere we went this year, it felt like a strong sense of togetherness in general was in the air. People were very open and welcoming not only for Pride events, but even Midsommerfest in Andersonville had this brighter than usual vibe and energy which kept people smiling and dancing. I hope it lasts all summer.”

This year’s Pride Month spilled into five weekends and included the popular Dog Day on June 1st at Sidetrack.

“Pride Month was full of countless Pride receptions for businesses and politicians, many taking advantage of Sidetrack’s rooftop deck,” said Sidetrack general manager Brad Balof.

Sidetrack celebrated 42 years with a grand party on June 13, which also was a benefit for GroceryLand. 

“Sidetrack saw great business over Pride Fest weekend, (June 22-23),” Balof said.

The last weekend of the month, Sidetrack also hosted the Northalsted Rainbow Bar Crawl, “a great way for patrons to experience all the bars that Northalsted has to offer,” Balof said.

Sidetrack once again opened early on Pride Parade Sunday. NBC Chicago streamed the parade from the Sidetrack roof and there were three views of the parade airing on televisions inside the bar during the event.

“One event that always means a lot to me (during Pride Month) is the Professionals Do Pride,” Balof said. “Employee Resource Groups from over 30 companies and corporations join to host a huge cocktail reception and fundraiser.  This year together they raised over $25,000 for One Roof Chicago.”

Balof added, “The weather for the parade was perfect. The Sidetrack team was so thrilled to see Sidetrack owners Art Johnston and Pepe Pena as Community Grand Marshals for the parade, and the Sidetrack float brought a lot of energy to crowds along the parade route.

“I was surprised to see how smooth the parade (went), despite the multitude of changes thrust upon the parade organizers. I think that the logistics were handled very well because the parade was ready to start on time, and minus a 9-minute halt in the parade to respect protestors that blocked the route, the parade ended at almost exactly two o'clock.”

Added Martel, “Pride Month is more important than ever and we actually have to be motivated and empowered to celebrate our Pride visibly and actively year-round.”

The party in Chicago’s LGBTQ+ community continues throughout the summer, with the annual Northalsted Market Days right around the corner.

Northalsted Market Days (August 10-11) is a live music street festival celebrating community in Chicago’s landmark Northalsted/Lakeview neighborhood. The summer showcase event features live music on five stages, 250-plus vendors, food and drink, dance exhibitions, drag performance, and more.

Billy Porter and RaiNao are two of the much-anticipated performers set for Market Days.

Lollapalooza and the Democratic National Convention also will rock the city in August.