As the 47th annual Pride Parade was winding down in Lakeview June 26, Pride at Montrose was just getting started.
Hundreds were walking towards Uptown's Cricket Hill for what is advertised as "Chicago's most vibrant Pride event."
There, they found relief from the sun underneath lines of trees and basked in the aroma from an array of family barbeques set up in the shadow of a massive stage while waiting for performances by DJ Gemini Jones, Audio Jack, DJ Tess, GUCCIROXX, Derrick Carter, Ruff N Stuff, Kaycee Ortiz, Darling Sheer, Kiara Lanier, Otis Mack and Terry D'Mor.
Alongside a message of unity, the Health Village manned by organizations including The Ruth M. Rothstein CORE Center, the Chicago Department of Public Health, Chicago House, AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) and their #PrEP4Love campaign and Affinity Community Services among others demonstrated that personal wellness was just as essential.
Then, shortly after 1 p.m., the Chicago Police Department (CPD) showed up.
According to Chicago Gay Black Men's Caucus Executive Director Erik Glenn, they told organizers to turn off the musicessentially closing down what has historically been the event's principal draw.
"The music was turned off," Glenn told Windy City Times. "Then, after 3 [p.m.], they returned."
A prominent Black actor, writer and creative activist who has been given the anonymous name "John" described what happened next.
"There was a high-ranking CPD officer who was engaging staff members from the AIDS Foundation of Chicago," he told Windy City Times. "The permit for the event was only until 6 p.m. So they pushed it until the eleventh hour and then it was 'no'."
He added that they essentially ran out the event's clock and so shut it down to the devastation of event organizers and the disappointment of those in attendance who wanted nothing but to enjoy the final Pride event of the day.
"These were people who pulled together despite all that we're going through even with the [state] budget impasse," he said.
The "high-ranking CPD" representative was soon joined by a large number of other police officers.
In a Facebook video posted by Glenn, the police can be seen taking shelter under one of the tents and using the port-a-potties as the Health Village and Cricket Hill were cleared of people.
"Tomorrow is National HIV testing day so we are missing a pretty good opportunity," Glenn said in the video. "But, speaking of things we are paying for, extra time for our police officers to hang out."
"I really wanted to scream and holler," John added, "But it was one of those moments when you have to hold up people. When did racism end? When did lynching end? There is always someone being groomed to hate you. If we don't teach them to survive and show what the fuck is up, they're going to fall into the abyss and we with them as we age."
His response was measured in comparison to some of the justifiable frustration on Facebook as an event that has been consistently targeted by the CPD including when it was known as Montrose Rocks was shut down with no plausible explanation provided.
For some, the closure was nothing more and nothing less than a direct attack on the Black LGBT community.
"I have a source that said that the police in the city already pre-planned thisto cancel the event about three days ago," Marquise Wiley posted in a video. "Why would you wait until the last minute to cancel this event? There were folks that put their heart and soul, they had invested in this. They had sponsors. They had HIV awareness. This is so crazy. Why are you attacking the Black gay community? You all are racist individuals. You let these white folks have their parade. Now that Black folks want to have their own event, you had pre-planned this shit? Folks it was about racism."
He said that there were no reports of violence at the event,
The reasons why the CPD cancelled it are murky at best, with organizers telling Windy City Times that it was due to the insufficient height of the security fences.
This was confirmed by a statement released June 27 by the AFC.
"The AIDS Foundation of Chicago is extremely disappointed that Pride at Montrose was required by the Chicago Police Department to end entertainment early on Sunday, June 26," it read. "This historic Black LGBTQ event was an opportunity to celebrate pride and provide healthcare resources in honor of National HIV Testing Day. Though we acknowledge the event did not have the six-foot fence as described in the security plan, throughout the day, we made changes in an attempt to address the concern."
"These changes, unfortunately, were viewed as an unacceptable alternative by the Chicago Police Department," the statement continued. "We wish they would have provided more flexibility so that we could have worked together to find a plausible and immediate solution."
The metal barricades used were exactly the same height as those at the Pride Parade.
Glenn could not understand the purpose of the six-foot fence requirement.
"A lot of us are still hard-pressed to find a rationale for this request," he said. "I'm a six-foot-tall man and to think there would be a fence as tall as me in a modestly sized area; if there were any safety concerns, how would people be able to get away? I could imagine people getting trampled."
There is historical precedent for Glenn's concerns.
In an infamous incident in the United Kingdom in 1989, 96 people died and 700 were injured due to overcrowding at the Hillsborough soccer stadium in Sheffield. They were crushed against the tall fences in use by the stadium, while others were trampled to death.
The request of a high fence at the Pride at Montrose event remains a mystery.
46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman issued the following statement:
"Per the Commanding Officer overseeing this event the agreed upon plan for the fencing was not followed, and he assessed that proceeding with the music portion of this event could affect the safety of the attendees. Nevertheless, I'm extremely disappointed that the issues could not have been worked out, especially given how important it is to provide HIV testing to those who may not ever seek testing on their own with a medical provider.
"Pride at Montrose is also especially important because it brings together many members of the African-American community to celebrate together what it means to be a member of the LGBTQ community, especially given the many barriers they often face I want to make sure we get to the bottom of this communication breakdown so that we can move forward and have many more Pride at Montrose events for years to come. Uptown is a very open and welcoming community and it's especially important that attendees of Pride at Montrose feel welcomed to Uptown."
Response from the CPD was limited to the statement "There were permit issues with the event at Montrose Beach and CPD asked organizers to discontinue the live music portion of the event. CPD did not shut down events at Montrose Beach."
"That's really a semantic word play," Glenn said. "We know and we would expect that the CPD, which has had a relationship with this event for years would know, that if you were to remove the music it effectively guts the heart of the event rendering it essentially impossible to facilitate the crowd going through the health services that were there."
Even before the CPD showed up, organizers of those health services had been faced with challenges.
As politicians marched along the Pride Parade route in search of applause for their embracement of diversity, the devastating effects of Springfield's refusal to agree upon a state budget were felt even at a celebratory event like Pride at Montrose.
As they did last year, The Ruth M. Rostein CORE Center was there to offer free HIV testing but, for 2016, there was a marked difference.
"Last year was a collaboration with several agencies who came out to do testing and we served about 200 people," Ruth M. Rothstein Community HIV Coordinator Juan Ortega said. "This year, because of funding cuts, we don't have that. We've done the most with what we have and the AIDS Foundation has been super supportive."
AIDS Foundation of Chicago President and CEO John Peller agreed.
"There's no question that the state budget is really having a disastrous impact on services," he said. "A million people across the state have lost services. We've heard the Center on Halsted this week saying that the future of their testing program is not clear without state funding. Downstate, providers haven't been paid all year and health departments, which are the mainstay of HIV testing, are laying off staff, reducing their hours and closing sites."
"The consequences of that are going to be more people who are [HIV] positive who don't know their status and more HIV infections and ultimately more costs for the state," he added. "So we're really calling on the governor and the state legislature to pass a responsible budget immediately."
Events like Pride at Montrose are at least a way for organizations like AIDS Foundation of Chicago to keep their front lines in the battle against HIV intact.
"The strategy that we've always followed is 'go where people already are' and so many people come to Montrose after Pride, that we're working to make sure that there is testing and awareness," Peller said.
Chief among the goals this year was spreading awareness of the benefits of Pre-exposure prophylaxis ( PrEP ).
Peller was optimistic.
"I think there will be a lot more awareness," he said. "We're building on the social marketing campaign we did over the winter and the city just released a series of grants to expand the capacity of people to provide PrEP and we think the groundswell is building."
So were the crowds at Pride at Montrose with every passing minute until the CPD arrived.
It made Ortega happy despite the challenges his organization faced.
"I love this event," he said. "It's one of the best. I feel like it has so much potential to be one of the hall mark events during Pride month."
In the aftermath of the event's shutdown, questions remain unanswered.
"When we look at the size of Pride parade, we literally had a million people, "Glenn said. "Attendance at Pride at Montrose really pales in comparison. So if the fences they used were good enough for the Pride parade, how were they not good enough for Pride at Montrose which is much more modestly sized?"
"It is at the very least a question mark as to why this event is being targeted the way it is," Glenn added, "It is fueled by the fact of that Pride at Montrose doesn't have the cover of safety by being a revenue generator for the city. On the heels of the Laquan McDonald case, people are rightly so left with questions about why there is this level of scrutiny given to this modestly-sized event. Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus would hope that we're able to create a stronger and better relationship with the Chicago Police Department, not just for our agency but the community as a whole. That type of work is hard and really necessitates a strong political will to see that change happens."
Erik Glenn's video was originally linked here, but Facebook has removed the video.