Despite increasing discrimination against LGBTQ+ people throughout the country, thousands of people are expected to gather for Chicago's annual Pride Parade June 25.
The 52nd annual parade kicks off at noon near Montrose Avenue and Broadway. About 150 floatsrepresenting community organizations, businesses, schools, churches, government officials and individualswill move along the traditional parade route toward Diversey Avenue and Cannon Drive.
"In the current environment, our insistence that there is nothing we should be ashamed of, that our dignity is unassailable and that we'll be in public, proudly asserting our humanity feels especially important this year," said Equality Illinois President Brian C. Johnson.
He added, "The uprising we have seen in opposition to full equality, in opposition to our families, at community events is troubling and heartbreaking. We're seeing groups like the Proud Boys and Moms for Liberty showing up. We're seeing threats of violence. We're seeing local officials having to ponder how to balance promoting the LGBTQ+ community and our dignity with the views of people who deny us our basic humanity."
This year's celebration comes in the wake of hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ laws, an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ attacks, and growing efforts to restrict access to information about LGBTQ+ topics. Even though pride celebrations have become more commercialized in the past decade, some companies have changed course by showing less support than in years past.
These attacks against the LGBTQ+ community have caused some people to feel more apprehensive about their safety and put additional pressure on event organizers to ensure celebrations are secure.
"Our city's historic Pride Parade is an opportunity for Chicagoans to come together and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and the progress made in the fight for equality," said Ald. Bennett Lawson (44th Ward) in a June 23 statement. "This year, as LGBTQ+ rights are under attack in state legislatures across the country, it's more important than ever to show that our city is a place where everyone can be their authentic selves.
"As celebrations continue this weekend, nothing is more important than keeping parade participants and attendees safe. In recent weeks, I've been in constant communication with the Chicago Police Department to discuss additional support needed and I am confident that together, we will have a safe and successful weekend."
Erin Bell, operations director at the Gerber Hart Library and Archive, said, "It's not that homophobia never existed in the past, but there's been such a hyperfocus on it this year that it makes people feel unsafe, especially those who are visibly queer and trans. It does feel dangerous to march in the parade this year, more so than it did last year."
However, the persistence of annual Pride parades throughout the country has always represented the community's strength against homophobia and transphobia.
The annual parade commemorates the June 28, 1969 Stonewall Rebellion when patrons of a New York City bar fought back during a police raid, which were frequent at the time. Demonstrations in the streets continued for days and led to the formation of gay liberation groups.
"Pride has always been rooted in protest, and in that sense, I'm as reflective as I've felt in previous years," said Mike Simmons, the first openly gay member of the Illinois Senate. "But the heinous level of hatred we're seeing, for example in the 500+ pieces of legislation targeting LGBTQ+ people, show we're at a crisis point in our community."
"I think it's great that we have a lot more commercial support and that pride has become something lots of people can get behind, but you never want that original message to go away," Bell said. "There's a reason that Stonewall happened, and there's a reason why Pride has always mattered."
People continuing to attend Pride celebrations in droves, despite the current political climate, helps to demonstrate the resilience of the LGBTQ+ community, Simmons said.
"We don't have to sit around in a state of somber reflection about what's happening in the world," Simmons said. "That can be a part of how we're feeling, but there is celebration to be had too, in terms of the fact we're alive. Our community is growing. More and more LGBTQ+ people are out and thriving."
Simply showing up to Pride celebrations can be powerful in itself, Bell said.
"Being visible, being present, participating, supporting other people is incredibly impactful and meaningful," Bell said. "Just showing that you exist, that you're here, that you're doing okay in spite of everything that's been going on, all of that means so much to everybody in the community."
The continued support of LGBTQ+ allies also makes a difference, Johnson said.
"My favorite part of the parade every year is seeing the community groups, particularly allies, that are willing to show up for us," Johnson said. "On a personal level, every year I get excited to see the group of churches that march in the parade. For so many people, houses of worship have not been places we've felt safe and affirmed or have been treated well. To see churches as allies marching in the parade is a sign of respectful solidarity that always inspires me."
In addition to attending the parade, supporting smaller community-run events at local libraries helps librarians to fight back against attacks on LGBTQ+ books, families and gatherings, Bell said.
"Those of us whose job is to provide people with information feel a particular pressure and magnification on our services and activities this year," Bell said. "Attendance statistics matter so much to libraries. Support the drag story times, support our exhibits and community events. Showing up proves that no one should bow to bullies."
When Pride Month inevitably ends, there are innumerable ways to continue showing support for the LGBTQ+ community and fighting back against anti-LGBTQ+ attacks. People can donate time and money to queer-led organizations, contact local representatives about key issues and support candidates who stand up for equality, Johnson said.
It's particularly important to keep LGBTQ+ seniors and young people in mind, as many queer elders continue to struggle with isolation and it's hard to imagine how young people feel as they watch the rise of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments, Simmons said.
"When the parade is over and they're sweeping the streets, how is everyone in our community and our allies going to lean into organizing people and money for LGBTQ+ causes 12 months out of the year?" Johnson said. "My hope would be that people are asking themselves how they can organize their time and money toward full queer liberation."
For more parade info, see www.windycitytimes.com/lgbt/Chicago-Pride-event-organizers-unveil-plans-including-safety-measures-in-light-of-increased-anti-LGBTQ-attacks/75126.html .