Civil unions, gay marriage energizes Chicago Pride Parade, stepping off at noon today

Sun. June 26, 2011 7:34 AM by Kevin Wayne

illinois gov. pat quinn in the chicago pride parade, 2010

photo credit // kevin wayne
Chicago, IL - News out of New York and Illinois' own civil unions law will create an extra buzz in the air along Halsted St. during the 42nd annual Chicago Pride Parade, which steps off Sunday at noon.

"With the passage of civil unions in Illinois and marriage in New York many people will be celebrating these victories and looking forward to passage in Illinois," parade coordinator Richard Pfeiffer told

Almost 42 years after the Stonewall riots, which marked the beginning of many pride celebrations, New York Friday became the sixth and most populous state to legalize gay marriage.

Though not full marriage equality, Illinois' landmark civil union legislation was signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Pat Quinn, who will be participating in Sunday's parade. Openly gay state Rep. Greg Harris, who introduced the legislation, will also be in the parade.

Illinois' civil union law went into effect on June 1, the first day of the nationally-recognized gay pride month.

"This has to be one of the best year's for LGBT people throughout the country and especially in Illinois and New York," said Rick Garcia, a long-time gay rights advocate. "We made significant gains and with the epic marriage vote in New York and implementation of civil unions in Illinois we have much to celebrate."

A crowd of over half a million people is expected to attend this year's parade, far more than in 1970 when the parade, which was actually a march near Washington Square Park, contained about 150 people.

"I remember when the parade was a handful of draq queens, a couple of beer trucks and some cutting edge activists," joked Garcia. "Today, it is jam packed with the whole fabric of our city - corporate, religious, our families and thank God still drag queens, leathermen and cutting edge activists."

In 1983, former Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne became the first major political figure to participate in the parade, which started a tradition of political entries that continues Sunday when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel will be at the front of the parade.

Emanuel was a favorite in Chicago's gay community during the recent mayoral election. He is credited with helping make the Center on Halsted become reality by securing 1.25 million dollars in federal funds while he served in Congress.

Pfeiffer also tells that there are a number of new entries this year, including representatives from the Chicago Teachers Union, the City Colleges of Chicago and the United States Peace Corps, as well as representatives from two local elementary schools.

One of the most notable entries this year is the Chicago Cubs, participating for the second time.

The parade, which snakes through the streets of Lakeview, will take approximately two and a half hours to finish crossing the Belmont and Halsted corner.

The Weather Channel forecast for Sunday calls for a slight chance of showers early, otherwise mild temperatures near 76 degrees and party cloudy skies.

"Let's hope for good weather, although the parade goes on rain or shine," said Pfeiffer.

As for Garcia, he's ready to begin the fight for full marriage equality.

"Celebrate our pride and then on Monday get back to the work that needs to be done," said Garcia."Full marriage equality in Illinois, repeal of DOMA and passage of ENDA."

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