I'm not sure why, but traveling to Chicago's Gay Pride this year was more meaningful to me than I had ever anticipated. I mean, after all, it is just a collection of people riding on parade floats, loud music, people marching, huge crowds cheering--it is pretty much the same thing year after year. Or is it?
Mind you, as I have the past few years, I traveled with a number of good, close friends. Naturally, those of us who live in cloistered South Bend always revel in the "family feel" of the parade. Countless men walking hand-in-hand--women too--without fear of reprisal, something rarely seen here in small town America.
Opening the parade was a float loudly playing what is generally accepted as a premiere gay anthem "We are Family" (by Sister Sledge). It set the tone, as always, for this year's parade.
The three hour + affair was populated with the usual suspects.... American military veterans of war marched as did members from PFLAG--both groups have always been incredibly popular with the crowds--and the audience, as always, was huge! I've always enjoyed seeing parents marching alongside their gay daughters and sons. I somehow doubt my parents would ever do the same. Still, it was an amazing, heartwarming sight!
So why did this year's parade leave me so verklempt? Honestly, I am not sure, but I can say that the vote legalizing gay marriages in New York state just two days earlier surely played a part f my feelings.
Tens of thousands of people (surely, more than 50,000 people where present for the parade)--gay, lesbian, transgendered and straight people alike lined the route on Chicago's Broadway, Addison and Halsted streets. We observers stood, sat, hang from upper floor windows--applauding, cheering, laughing, pointing... living it up for the day!
As always there were plenty of floats with scantily clad men and women; many church groups were there illustrating not all homophobes are Christian--clearly so... many Christians churches and other denominations have embraced the gay community with open arms.
And what gay pride parade would be complete without the ever popular dykes on bykes? Drag queens joined the Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps (ROTC) baton twirlers, the gay square dancers and then, of course, were the countless business floats proudly proclaiming they embrace and support their gay employees.
Local political figures courting the gay and lesbian were out in force... notably, Chicago's mayor Rahm Emmanuel marched in the parade. I believe, he was the first Chicago mayor to walk the parade greeting the crowds. He did it on foot, not separated from his constutuents seated in a car, but he marched on foot... and he obviously was not afraid to be seen there! He shook hands, smiled, and he was there! With us!
One woman who marched alone carried a sign, proudly and up high, saying "Thank you, New York!" Another carried a sign saying "Illinois is next!" And yet another "Illinois, we're coming next to you!"
I wish I could say the same of my native Indiana, but I know better. Hoosiers may proclaim "Hoosier hospitality," but all too often, that does not include its gay sons and daughters. For us to experience the emotions of this day, we usually are forced to travel to Chicago, New York City or other major metropolitan cities, where inclusion is much more common.
As the four of us watched the parade, we wondered why the parade seemed so out of sync and unevenly spaced out. Not until the next day did I learn that homophobes slashed the tires of many of the floats just prior to the beginning of the day's events. If not for the ingenuity of parade officials, this year's parade might have not happened at all. Last minute efforts heroically rounded up enough tires to keep the floats going! Kudos to them--and to the marchers undaunted by hate... And shame upon those who attempted to douse this year's annual celebration!
Knowing this, even after the fact, made the parade more meaningful this year.
During the parade, I met a lesbian named Beth. She and I talked about our roots (her hometown--13 years ago--was Denver), our jobs (in her job she works youth and veteran programs, getting people ready for college and enlisting them for jobs) and we talked about whether we are "out" in our jobs or not. Beth, 33 years old and I being 53, bo,th agreed today's gay teens are a different animal than from *both* of our generations. Kids amazingly, are coming out today at the age of 10, 11, 12!!! This was unthinkable in earlier times... and I am sure this is scaring the beejeebies out of the Christian right, a notion I find rather amusing and ironic!
And this leads me to what I think moved me the most about this year's parade. Late in the parade there came a point where there were hundreds... literally hundreds.. at least three to four hundred youth marching in unison. It was like a huge disorganized conga line. It was so cool! The sight of all these youth gave me goosebumps (see the video at the end of this post).
I had turned to my friend Matt and Shane and mentioned wishing I had a video camera to capture this sea of moving bodies. Literally, I was in tears as I witnessed this. Hundreds and hundreds of youth who were proudly gay and lesbian--and if not, their straight friends--were marching alongside in support of their friends.
Thinking of that huge undulating mass of teens and twenty-somethings walking proudly in unison, I have goosebumps all over again just reliving that moment.
We truly are... family!
photos by the author
video courtesy of Shane Kellar