Chicago comes out big time for 42nd annual Pride Parade

Mon. June 27, 2011 8:17 AM by Brett Anthony

mayor rahm emanuel in the chicago pride parade

photo credit // kevin wayne

Parade cut short as entries diverted from parade route over safety concerns

Chicago, IL - A record-breaking number of people converged on the Lakeview neighborhood Sunday to celebrate significant progress in gay rights, but massive crowds seemed too much for Chicago Police.

On a near perfect summer afternoon, an estimated 750,000 spectators celebrated gay pride from the streets, rooftops and balconies in the Lakeview neighborhood best known as Boystown.

The 42nd annual Chicago Pride Parade, lead by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, took on added energy as gay Chicagoans and allies came out to celebrate news of marriage equality in New York and Illinois' own civil unions law.

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 marched in Sunday's parade. Openly gay state Rep. Greg Harris, who introduced the legislation, also participated.

Harris' float was one of 51 floats vandalized late Saturday night or early Sunday morning. His group marched on foot.

In what could turn out to be a hate crime, nearly 100 tires on floats were cut with a knife at Associated Attractions in the 4800 block of South Halsted.

"This is catastrophic," Chuck Huser, owner of Associated told Windy City Times, which first reported the story.

Most of the floats made it to the parade on time as the company rushed to fix the damage at an estimated $20,000. The float for the Chicago Gay Lesbian Hall of Fame arrived just minutes before the start of the parade.

One float that never made it to the parade was Spin Nightclub's entry, which was to feature members of RuPaul's Drag U and RuPaul's Drag Race. But in the spirit of the pride celebration they joined the Grab magazine float.

"We decided in the spirit of pride that we'd share are float with them," said Mark Nagel, co-publisher of Grab.

Ironically the float for the Chicago Police Department's GOAL gay officers group was another float missing because of the vandalism.

Despite the vandals attempts to dampen spirits, the parade started on time and included most of the 250 entries. Along with the festive and colorful floats were the usual politicians, decorated vehicles and walking contingents all representing various organizations and businesses in the LGBT and allied community.

One of the more notable entries was the Chicago Cubs, participating for the second time. New this year were representatives from the Chicago Teachers Unions, the City Colleges of Chicago and the United States Peace Corps.

Several protesters stationed near the end of the parade shouted anti-gay insults but were generally drowned out by the enthusiast crowd, parade participants and music. 

After a majority of parade entries crossed Clark St. and Halsted, the Office of Emergency Management and Chicago Police began redirecting the remaining entries from the parade route to Clark St., because of safety concerns related to overcrowding along Halsted. That decision left about 40 participants out of the parade.

Several of the floats diverted, including 103.5 KISS FM and Grab Magazine, were ironically those vandalized, repaired and rushed to the parade site. Other missing entries included Old Town School of Folk Music, Paws Chicago, Berlin, GAYCO and some 45 other entries.

The number of people along Halsted reportedly swelled to the point where the barricades that were in place could no longer contain the crowds, which caused spectators to spill into the street and made it unsafe for floats to pass through Boystown. This is not the first year the city exercised its right to redirect the parade.

The Windy City Times reports that spectators were packed so tightly along Halsted that people were forced to scaled an 8-foot fence near the Center on Halsted to escape the crush of the crowds.

Photographer Frank Failing, of Male Image Photography, stationed near Halsted St. and Brompton Ave. told that police seemed to leave their posts, which allowed spectators to pour into the street.

Large gaps in the parade caused some additional confusion as the City of Chicago decided to start and stop the parade as it crossed the intersection of Clark St. at Halsted, which has been closed in previous years.

First held in 1970, the annual Chicago Pride Parade has grown to become the second-largest parade in Chicago, behind the annual Bud Billiken Parade.

The parade commemorates the New York City Stonewall riots in 1969, a happening that many say sparked the modern gay rights movement.

Other major cities such as New York City, San Francisco and Toronto also held their gay pride parades on Sunday.

Related Photos:
View hundreds of photos from the 42nd annual Chicago Pride Parade

Related Story on Windy City Times:
Crowds out of control at Chicago's Pride Parade