I’m sitting on a concrete corner fence at the edge of Walgreen’s pharmacy outlet, Belmont and Broadway. I’m an hour early for the start of Chicago’s 44th Gay Pride Parade.
In front of me are some Chinese children passing out plastic rainbow bracelets, courtesy of Walgreen’s.
Over the years I’ve attended some dozen of these celebratory events, and following the two recent Supreme Court decisions last week, I’m sure this march will be glorious, memorable, and for me a fitting exclamation point to my own 50-year-plus gay life.
(My first Chicago parade was in 1960. It was St. Patrick’s Day. Mayor Daley was political kingpin at the time, and for the event the Chicago River was dyed green. As a Living Rosary marched by us, my friend Dan quipped, “Get a look see at that second Our Father on the right!”)
Around me a gathering of Latinos are in a party mood, hugging, kissing, patting each other affectionately, joking. I take iPhone pictures. A harried dishwater blond vendor is also annoyingly tooting a loud horn, and shooting floating bubbles into the air from a hand-held gun. Five or six shattering toots later she shrugs and moves on.
As a dozen or so police reroute Belmont traffic and close off the street for spectator viewing, an overly dressed, older drunk – sport coat and tie – stands in front of me, holding a bottle in a bag, obviously in his cups. “Frankly, I liked it better when they’d think nothing of pissing on us gays. It’s all too open now. Not as much private and fun.”
This year’s parade is touted to be shorter. Under two hours. Attendance last year was 850,000. (If I recall correctly, it seemed that every politician or would-be running for office was in there. Standing outside the Halstead $20-million LGBT Center, I saw hundreds marching for dozens of candidates of choice.)
It’s 12:25 and everybody gathered around cheers, cheers, cheers, as NFL player Wade Davis, as grand marshal, waves into view. (He will be followed in turn by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.)
From my exalted vantage point I record favored highlights: floats carrying gay/lesbian police and fire staff, veterans displaying a street-wide American flag, P-FLAG Parents, senior citizens, TV broadcast units, LGBT parents marching with children, persons of color: Hispanic, Asian, Black, Indian; bar floats with gigantic balloon displays, dozens of Berlin body builders flexing.
Oh, Good God! In this Pride Parade celebration there are not one, but two separate contingents of Dykes on Bikes, revving it up, sending the crowd into competing roars of pleasure. Two marching bands pass by like happy-go-lucky pied pipers, and I want to follow!
Nearly four hours have gone by. The rainbow tail end wags past. The guard gates are removed, and I and hundreds join the parade, marching about a mile-and-a-half to gather at Lincoln Park. Along the route, thousands and thousands yell, scream, shout, glad hand it, Happy Pride! Yes! Happy Pride!
As I march two things automatically happen: I get goosebumps; and I’m proudly, happily moved to tears along the way.