This year's Chicago Pride Parade was the largest ever, causing some concerns about whether it has become too big for its Lakeview britches.
Pride Chicago and its leader, Rich Pfeiffer, organize the parade. Pfeiffer and his team have done incredible work as a backbone of Pride since the early 1970s. While other cities have faced massive changes in leadership, scandals and a diverted focus, Pride Chicago has had a singular goal of running the Pride Parade each year. It is to be applauded for this work.
However, it also has many competing interests to wrangle. These include citizens, businesses, politicians, police, emergency services, transportation, streets and sanitation, and much more. Change will not come easy.
After complaints as crowds swelled in the late 2000s, more barricades were added to increase the safety of those in the parade and those watching. Contingents were told not to hand out anything. ( Even the politicians ignored the rule this year. ) A limit of 240 was placed on the number of contingents ( although many people and groups combine as an end-run around that rule ) . More parade marshals and police were used. More portable restrooms were placed.
However, with beautiful weather, and coming two days after New York passed a marriage-equality law and four weeks after Illinois started civil unions, an estimated 750,000 people crowded into in Lakeview June 26. It was a perfect storm.
Tens of thousands of people streamed off the train platforms at Belmont and Addison. The Belmont station had to be closed temporarily. Hundreds of thousands tried to see the parade along Halsted, making the crowds impassable. Had the weather been hotter, there may have actually been some deaths caused by heat exhaustion. Some people simply had no way to get out of the crowds. Some were nearly crushed. There was violence, and there were a lot of drunk people.
So what needs to happen? Most important, we need a solution well before next year's parade, so that the community knows what will happen. The solutions below are focused on keeping the Parade near the heaviest LGBT areas, but some people are suggesting it needs to move downtown. Since the end of June conflicts with Taste of Chicago, this would mean changing the parade dates. In the interest of trying to keep it in the same area, at the end of June, here are some ideas.
Start the parade at 10 a.m. or, at the latest, 11 a.m. People are hopefully not as drunk by then.
Move the parade to Saturday morning. It can then be the start of the weekend celebration.
Move the Pride Parade to be along Sheridan, starting at Diversey and going north to Belmont, then Belmont west to Halsted, where it ends. The floats could be staged south of Diversey along Cannon Drive. The parade would then end at Belmont and Halsted, and folks could still celebrate along Halsted and Broadway at LGBT businesses. This partly solves the CTA and traffic-crush problem, as folks would be more dispersed in how they reached the parade.
PrideFest, which is a two-day festival on Halsted Friday and Saturday before the parade on Sunday, could be made instead into a Saturday and Sunday event, and be also partly along Broadway.
Have big screens with the parade showing live at points along Halsted and Broadway, maybe in parking lots or park areas, for overflow folks to go. Also have it on all screens at the bars, live, and maybe even in a few points in other communities such as Andersonville, Hyde Park, Logan Square, Rogers Park, Oak Park, etc.
Other cities have tried to move their parades out of the LGBT areas, with little success. It would be ideal not to force the parade downtown. However, to keep it in Lakeview, there must be major adjustments. Many people will need to work hard on solutions and compromises, all in the interest of LGBT pride.
Tracy Baim is publisher and executive editor of Windy City Times.