The annual Chicago Pride Parade started in 1970 as a march with 100 to 150 people from the Near North Side to downtown.
In its second year it became a parade with several hundred people and decorated vehicles as well as marchers and moved to the gay-friendly East Lake View neighborhood ( then called New Town, now Boys Town ). Over the years, the number of registered entries, participants and spectators has steadily increased, as more people become out and proud.
A noticeable boost in both viewership and participation in the parade occurred in 1977, shortly after anti-gay singer Anita Bryant was picketed by more than 5,000 people at Medinah Temple.
One of the largest increases in numbers of participants and spectators took place during the 1982 parade. That year, a group of anti-gay neo-Nazis decided that they were going to protest by holding a rally beforehand and then marching down the street to confront the parade procession head-on. Although their rally took place, the direct confrontational march by the neo-Nazis did not.
However, the parade that year brought out thousands more gays and allies who either registered for the parade, lined the parade route or attended a counter-rally near the neo-Nazi rally. In fact, some city statistics at the time indicated that spectators may have doubled from the previous year. The number of parade participants increased dramatically as well.
Another increase was noted in 1984. Up until that time a local state representative and an alderman had been the only elected officials in the parade. After Mayor Jane Byrne lost her bid for reelection, she decided to thank the gay communities for supporting her. When word got out that she was going to be in the parade that year, elected officials began contacting PRIDEChicago in large numbers to register for the parade, continuing a tradition that lasts through today.
Some spectators said that they came to see the first "major" Chicago politician to appear in the annual Pride Parade. Later, Mayor Harold Washington spoke at a Pride rally, and political marchers have included Richard M. Daley, Barack Obama, Jan Schakowsky, and dozens more.
For a number of years, the Pride Committee also sponsored downtown rallies at the Civic Center Plaza ( now the Daley Center Plaza ) during Pride Week. The Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force took over managing those rallies in the 1980s, and the rallies were gone by the 1990s, as were the bureaucratic barriers to use of the plaza that the original rallies had meant to challenge. Those rallies were more political in nature than the Pride Parades, with speakers and protest signs. Also for many years, after each Pride Parade had ended, rallies coordinated by PRIDEChicago were held in the parks. In later years, they were discontinued, in part because of neighborhood noise complaints and many competing events, including dances, Black gay pride celebrations, and bar parties.
By the mid 2000s, estimated of crowds grew to 400,000 and 450,000, and last year, in 2015, the month the U.S. Supreme Court declared marriage equality throughout the country, and estimated 1 million people watched the Chicago Pride Parade.
This piece was adapted from an article by PRIDEChicago coordinator Rich Pfeiffer from the 2008 book Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, edited by Tracy Baim, available at Women & Children First Books or on Amazon, www.amazon.com/Out-Proud-Chicago-Overview-Community/dp/1572841001 .
BY THE NUMBERS
The following parade statistics are for spectators ( not participants ), as estimated by several sources including police, city officials, PRIDEChicago ( the parade organizers ), and mainstream and gay media.
1970: "several hundred"
1971 to 1977: "several thousand"
2015: 1 million