It was the best of pride. It was the worst of pride.
Hundreds of thousands of people converged on Halsted, Broadway, Belmont and nearby streets for Chicago's 42nd annual Pride Parade Sunday, June 26. With so many people in such a contained area, most behind street barricades, ultimately the pressure cooker exploded.
However, most parade participants probably were not aware of the problems and in fact when the floats stopped coming north on Halsted, many just simply started filling the streets and walked calmly away.
The parade likely topped previous Chicago Pride records, with police estimating 750,000 jamming into the Lakeview area.
The day started with the bad news of 51 of floats disabled by slashed tires at Associated Attractions on South Halsted, and some of those contingents ended up walking instead of riding.
However, the Pride Parade did take off on time, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel leading the way.
There were so many people that the Chicago Police Department and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications ( OEMC ) forced the last few dozen contingents to be diverted south on Clark Street.
The police department issued this statement Monday: "Near the end of the parade, Chicago Police, in coordination with parade organizers, stopped the parade briefly to allow attendees near Belmont and Halsted to cross from west to east to alleviate congestion. The parade then resumed but with a shorter route in order to accommodate the large crowd and to get the parade back on schedule."
The area was just too crowded to allow safe passage on the planned routes.
Pride Chicago leader Rich Pfeiffer told Windy City Times that the OEMC and police are in charge on parade day, and that the city provides these services for all parades.
"There was a concern for crowd safety," Pfeiffer said, noting that many people had to get out from behind the barricades because it was so packed.
Windy City Times readers emailed and sent Facebook messages noting their own experiences, some positive, some negative. One witnessed people being plucked out of the crowds to avoid being crushed.
The police diversion seemed to happen around contingent number 191 of 240. Floats and marchers were forced to go south on Clark Street, cutting off miles from the normal route. Because of the float attack, however, some contingents were out of order so it was unclear how many didn't make the full trip.
Many of those in the diverted contingents were angered by the decision.
Pfeiffer said he and his parade marshals were asked to go to Diversey early on to help with crowd management. He was there when he got word that police and OEMC diverted the parade south on Clark Street.
This caused a convergence of contingents at Broadway, Clark and Diversey, and there were few police on hand to control the crowds. Most streets were just full of pedestrians, with no way for normal traffic to get through.
Last year, the police had closed Clark Street to traffic, but this year they allowed vehicles through, which also caused some delay and gaps between contingents, leaving the packed crowd to wonder if the parade was over or just lagging.
A police department spokesman told Windy City Times Sunday night that there were reports of various fights breaking out so officers from surrounding districts were called in to help and restore peace. Some spectators were also removed from rooftops due to overcrowding.
A police department spokeswoman on Monday confirmed there were several arrests made during the Pride Parade. But police did not yet have a full report on if there were any injuries or how many arrests.
Witnesses reported that the Belmont El station was closed at least partially during the parade, possibly due to the intense crowds. The public transportation system seemed overwhelmed, with trains and train platforms at capacity, even miles away from the Belmont and Addison exits. People came pouring off the trains and onto the already overcrowded streets.
Sirens could be heard throughout the neighborhood, and reportedly some police were injured around Belmont. Spectators were seen jumping up and down on a car, almost collapsing it. At one point along Halsted, spectators were jumping an eight-foot chain link fence to get out of suffocating crowds caught between the fence and the barricades.
One Windy City Times reporter was in the middle of the Belmont crowds and nearly got tackled. For an entire block on the west side of Halsted at Belmont people were pushing against the barricades. Police added three rows of barricades to contain crowds, which still spilled into the street by 1 p.m. It looked like several fights broke out there and by noon, and police were already helping people out of the crowd who felt light-headed and dizzy. Things also looked very bad on the west side of Aldine at Halsted, with crowds at least as thick as an entire block.
Lesbian activist Riva Lehrer was also crushed in the crowds, in front of Whole Foods on Halsted. She said she was stuck in a large group of drunk people and a fist-fight broke out. She was slammed against the wall, elbowed and kicked. She managed to escape into Whole Foods, where she fainted. After recovering, she tried to get the store to let her out the back, but they would not. Rather, she exited through the parking ramp and left the area.
"I thought I was going to be killed," she said Monday. "I was yelling for help, shouting 'Injured disabled person! Help! Help!' and no one would help." She also said her cell phone would not work and many people said their cell phones could not get reception that day, perhaps because there was so much usage in the area.
Some of the contingents were so angered by the change that they said they will be asking for a refund of their entry fee. Pfeiffer said while the parade contract that groups sign includes the right of the police to make changes the day of the event, the committee will refund money to those contingents who were diverted, or the money can go towards next year's entrance fee.
Illinois Gender Advocates ( IGA ) was one contingent that was diverted.
"We were so upset because the parade route doesn't really start until it makes a right onto Broadway," said IGA President Candice Hart. "That's where the main part of the parade was, and we were denied that … to us, we never really got out of the staging area."
Hart said that even the day after, no one had informed IGA about why they were diverted. Hart said that the registration fee took a substantial chunk of the organization's budget, and that they will be requesting a full refund.
The Puppy Mill Project was another contingent that got jammed early on and was diverted away from crowds.
"We didn't even make it to the starting point," said Tina Smith, an organizer with the Puppy Mill Project. "We were all amped up and ready to go. Then we had heard that the parade was cancelled."
Smith, whose float was one of the first diverted, said that her float idled for several minutes while their driver tried to figure out what was happening. After more than 15 minutes of waiting, the float took a sharp right turn, skipping nearly the entire parade route.
Smith is also hoping for a partial refund or a credit for next year's parade.
"We're not for profit. It's a lot of money to get into this parade," Smith said. "We were totally disappointed that we never really made it to the gay neighborhood."
So what's next? Pfeiffer said every year after the parade there is a meeting to discuss options. He said it helped that people were allowed to cross at more points, moving from west to east where it was less crowded, but that alternate routes may need to be discussed as well.
In past years, people have suggested a longer route north, avoiding the "V" turn at Waveland onto Broadway. But any suggestions to eliminate either Halsted or Broadway from the route have been met with criticism from businesses, and other cities have also had to contend with lack of support when a parade is moved away from the heavily gay neighborhoods.
In addition, because Taste of Chicago is downtown the same weekend as Pride, it would be impossible to have Pride along Columbus Drive in the East Loop. The following weekend is July 4th and Black Pride. Moving the Parade up a week would solve at least the problem of downtown crowds.
Incident by Belmont
ABC was broadcasting again this year from the pride Parade near Halsted and Belmont, and the intensity of the crowds also caused problems around their zone.
Emily Arthur wrote the station after the parade: "I observed some truly terrible [ behavior ] by your security personnel. On the corner of Belmont and Halsted, the crowds were terrible … . In order to keep from passing out and to get away from the crushing crowds, several people attempted to scale a 5-foot high fence. … Your security personnel, however, instead of helping people out of this dangerous situation, started SHOVING people off the fence and back on to the crowd. I personally observed one security ( approximately 300 lbs ) shove a man who was close to 60 years old off of the fence and the man then fell on to other people who were already being crushed by the crowds. Instead of HELPING people, your security guard SHOVED people off of a fence. That is more than inappropriate and you all should be ashamed of yourselves."
ABC's Emily Barr, president and general manager, responded in an email to Arthur that they had electrical equipment on the other side of that fence and it was unsafe for people to try to jump over. ABC hired off-duty police as security. "Frankly the situation was momentarily chaotic and, starting with next year's parade, we are going to talk with the parade organizers about changing the fencing structure and better managing that corner since it has become a choke point of sorts for the event," Barr wrote.
However, Arthur said the fence was the only way out of a drastic situation, and lives were at stake. "While we were being crushed in the crowd, people were crying, feeling sick, and starting to get violent with your security standing idly by. I was the one who called 911 and had to go get police officers ( once I successfully scaled the fence ) to assist in the situation," Arthur said.
As first reported by Windy City Times at 8 a.m. June 26, dozens of tires on floats headed for Chicago's Pride Parade were cut with knives just hours before the Parade.
Chicago Police detectives, along with the Chicago Police Civil Rights-Hate Crimes Unit, are investigating criminal damage to the floats.
A spokesperson for the police said this investigation is ongoing, "and while the motive is undetermined at this time, the possibility of this being a hate crime has not been ruled out. No one is in custody at this time."
Chuck Huser, owner of long-time Pride float provider Associated Attractions Enterprises at 4834 S. Halsted on Chicago's South Side, said the floats were fine when he left 8 p.m. Saturday night, but when he returned 5 a.m. Sunday to start preparation for drivers to depart, he found two tires punctured each on 51 floats.
"This is catastrophic," he told Windy City Times at 8 a.m. Pride Sunday. "This has never happened before, and we have been doing this since 1989."
All 51 floats Huser had for the Pride Parade were targeted, each with two slashed tires. The attackers broke in but did no other damage to the floats, and they took nothing else, leaving Huser to believe this had to be a hate crime. No notes were left.
Huser has filed a police report, but his main focus the morning of the Pride Parade was finding an open tire shop, where they were running back and forth to repair the tires. Huser said the damage is in excess of $12,000.
"They didn't want these folks to go out," Huser said. While he was able to get some on the road, there were three that could not be fixed in time for the parade. He added that he has no disgruntled employees or customers, and that most of his workers have been with him more than 20 years.
Jim Bennett of Lambda Legal said his organization's float was among those unable to participate but that his team "had a blast" marching on foot. A combined political float for Rep. Greg Harris, Rep. Kelly Cassidy and Rep. Heather Steans also was disabled, but their teams marched proudly. Spin's float was also unable to make the parade.
While the rest of the floats were repaired, some did not make it in time to be used by those who rented them.
Huser said June 27 he did not have alarms or cameras, but he did have a security dog. The dog is fine, but he obviously was unable to stop the attack.
"People were so understanding," Huser said. "I was overwhelmed by how understanding everybody was."
Anna, a worker at ABC Parade Floatsanother Pride Parade provider, located at 3375 W. Columbussaid that the 20 floats it provided this year were not attacked. "We keep our floats indoors, so no one has access to them except our employees," she said. "My heart goes out to [ Huser ] ; he's such a nice guy."
Marching with pride
The first part of the parade seemed to go off well, with dozens of politicians, a police contingent, and many more marching under beautiful skies.
Emanuel was shaking hands along the route. This was the first time a Chicago mayor has marched in the parade since Mayor Richard M. Daley did in his first year in office; after that he said he did not work on Sundays, so he hosted an annual Pride reception instead.
Other politicians in the parade included Gov. Pat Quinn; Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon; Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan; U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Mike Quigley; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; openly gay state Reps. Greg Harris, Deb Mell and Kelly Cassidy; state Reps. Sara Feigenholtz and Harry Osterman; state Sens. Heather Steans and John Cullerton; openly gay aldermen Tom Tunney and James Cappleman; Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez; Cook County Clerk David Orr; Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart; City Clerk Susana Mendoza; Cook County Water Reclamation District Commissioner Debra Shore; gay and other judicial officials; and more. Commission on Human Relations Chair Mona Noriega rode in a car with Dawn Clark Netsch. There was also an Obama 2012 contingent.
Police Chief Garry McCarthy was also in the parade just ahead of the GOAL gay officers group. Ironically, the GOAL group's float was one of those missing due to the tire incident.
Popular contingents in this year's parade were the Windy City Cowboys, who thrilled crowds with line dancing, as well as a giant robot rolled out by the t-shirt company, Threadless. The ROTC ( Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps ) , The Lakeside Pride Freedom Band, Dykes on Bikes, and Chicago Spirit Brigade also had high-energy crowd-pleasing numbers.
FINC, the Filipino Pride contingent, had a rocking float in addition to choreographed dancing, but unfortunately the vehicle towing their float broke down in front of Center on Halsted and the float had to be towed. It took some time for a truck to make it in, so other contingents had to march around the stalled float.
PFLAG was as popular as ever, with parents and friends marching along with LGBTs. Nettlehorst and Chicago Waldorf School also marched to great response. Both are grammar schools, showing just how far Pride has come since the 1969 Stonewall protests in New York.
Speaking of New York, there were numerous signs acknowledging the history made in that state just two days prior, when that state passed a law allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Direct-action organization Gay Liberation Network used the occasion to protest the detention of Bradley Manning, the openly gay Army intelligence analyst who stands accused of leaking damning U.S. intelligence information.
Two large flags also were carried through the parade. The Americans Veterans for Equal Rights marched with their popular American flag, and the United Airlines contingent carried a rainbow flag.
The Chicago Teachers Union also marched for the first time this year. There were dozens of religious groups represented. LGBT sports teams and leagues marched, and there were representatives from the Chicago Cubs, Chicago Force and Chicago Sky pro sports teams, as well as roller derby women, hockey men and men's and women's rugby teams. Dozens of corporations had contingents in the parade.
While many people reported to Windy City Times about the uncomfortable crowds and near-crushing experience, not all who attended the parade noticed the apparent failure to control rowdy crowds. Ric Marmolejo, a first-time Chicago pride-goer said he was stunned by a lack of littler in the streets. In his home city of San Antonia, Texas, he said, parades usually leave behind large piles of trash.
"It really gives you a sense of belonging," Marolejo said. "The people here are amazing."
Heidi Malm, of Rogers Park, also delighted the enthusiasm of crowds along Broadway at her first Pride Parade.
"I like it because it's just to much happiness," she said. "If you're home today, you just miss out on all this happiness."
The usual anti-gay suspects were on display on Diversey Avenue and Pine Grove near the end of the parade route. One WCT reader noted their signs included "Homo Sex Is A Sin" and "The Party in Hell Has Been Cancelled." The reader said some of the spectators were confronting the anti-gays.
WCPT Radio broadcast the parade live from the Center on Halsted with hosts Stephanie Miller and Hal Sparks.
Betty Tsamis of the Tsamis Law Firm PC is offering a $500 reward to the first person to provide information leading to the arrest of those who damaged the pride parade floats. Send info to Btsamis@tsamislaw.com .
Please also see
More photos from Chicago's 2011 Pride Parade by Kat Fitzgerald
Posted June 26, 2011 www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=32506
Pride Parade 2011 photos by Tim Carroll, Jean Albright, Tracy Baim. www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=32505
Photos on this page: Seven people climbed on top of a car, which was parked at 900 W. Belmont and starting dancing and jumping on it, drawing a massive crowd until the roof started to bow and crack and the windshield shattered. Police came to break up the crowds. Photo by Kate Sosin. Spectators crowded between the barricades and an 8-foot chain-link fence on Halsted started to jump to get away from the crowds. Photos by Jean Albright
-- Also contributing: Andrew Davis and Kate Sosin