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CHICAGO: This is my tenth trip to the Windy City to take part in its Annual Pride Parade gathering. Since I first started to visit the city in 1959, I’ve seen its LGBT rainbow community change, gradually move north, and struggle for full human rights recognition.
Chicago is my Second City, a home away from home, with intense memories of the promiscuous Sexual Revolution 70s and its horrific aftermath – the AIDS epidemic years.
Today the temperature is 90. The four-mile route along street arteries, Halstead, Broadway, Belmont, Diversey is lined with an estimated one million celebrants.
Celebrants is not an exact description. Yes, it’s a celebration — the city’s 47th parade since 1970 — of LGBT rainbow pride. But it’s also a display of heart-touching sympathy for the 49 victims who were brutally murdered two weeks earlier, miles, miles away in Florida.
There helpless patrons, dancers, bystanders were trapped — wounded — terrorized — at Orlando’s Pulse during the gay club’s Saturday Hispanic Night gathering. Ninety percent of attendees were Latino. Twenty-three were Puerto Rican.
I’ve arrived early by cab — $20 ride with many traffic bottlenecks — about an hour before the parade’s noon kickoff. Because of closed-off streets, I have several blocks to walk to the Halstead $10 million LGBT Center, offering, I hope, an ideal vantage spot for watching the three-hour-long festivities. (165 registered entries. Down from last year’s 215.)
Because of the intense heat, even for a Chicago morning, and a troublesome knee, I take my time, moving leisurely among the assembling marchers, arriving floats, rainbow flag and souvenir vendors, affirming church clergy and congregants, and see many, many enlarged photos of the murdered Pulse victims.
There is understandably a large Hispanic presence visible. We Are Orlando t-shirts are worn by dozens of participants, both Hispanic and non-Hispanic.
There is also a very visible police presence. Cops on foot. Cops on bikes. Cops in squad cars. Cops informally chatting with parade participants. Present are 160 off-duty officers. Up from 90 the year before.
(Open alcohol containers are prohibited. Bags are checked. Bars along the route are responsible for customers who wander reveling outside. Violators are subject to $1000 fines.)
I take many iPhone pictures of Asian American gays in gold traditional dragon embellished costumes; parents who have brought children happily waving rainbow flags; softly revving dykes on bikes; Gold Coast drag queens; poster carrying supporters of election candidates; leather dudes; major TV station floats and interviewing staff with microphones.
it occurs to me: thousands and thousands are also using their Smart Phones to record this parade 2016. Here in Chicago. In New York. In San Francisco. In other cities and small towns as well. Perhaps shared images will create awareness, provoke changes for the better for LGBT persons.
As I expected, the Halstead LGBT Center is triple-line-crowded outside. It’s rooftop alive with full capacity, banner waving celebrants. As silent marchers carrying 49 selfie Never Forget! portraits of once-happy, once-young, once-carefree, LGBT murder victims . . .
I bow my head, touch my heart and affirm that I too am Orlando . . .