Over the Hill, but Still Not There: Chicago’s 40th Pride Weekend

A lot can happen in forty years. A man landing on the moon becomes passé, for example. A celebrity can become a superstar, then alleged child molester, then nothing more than food for worms. Wars start, then lose meaning.

But then again, in the span of four decades, some wars never end.

This weekend marks the 40th Annual Pride Parade in Chicago, and we’re supposed to think that times have changed: year One, and you had about a hundred angry folks yelling down Michigan Ave., demanding the freedom to be open, the necessity to be seen. Now, I suppose, you couldn’t miss us if you tried: our parade has become a Boystown to-do, with an expected 400,000-450,000 in attendance, 250 floats to be danced upon, countless other drinks to be had, songs to be sung, sunburns to be made, drag performances to be consumed…

We’re here, we’re queer, but is the war really won?

Obviously not. Anyone with a queer bone in their body (or a plain ol’ eye, or an ear) could tell you so. With the recent upholding of Prop 8 and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, not to mention battles in the church, in the workplace, in schools, on the streets, on the bus at night in a neighborhood where you’re not quite sure if it’s safe to hold her hand…We may have finally taught the population at large that, gee-whiz-no, you actually won’t get AIDS if you share a drink with your gay pal. But I can’t help but think of all the work that’s still left to do. I wonder why, in this pinnacle political point for the LGBTQ community, we get together – most of us intoxicated, almost all of us half-naked – and spend the day dancing to club music from float speakers, rather than angrily storming down Obama’s lawn (we’re still here, dude!) and have him sign all those silly papers that give equal rights to all?

If I’m not careful, I start thinking of Pride as a counterproductive mess; something that has lost sight of its political roots, not adding to the momentum behind the queer community towards equality. But then I remember this first time I went to Chicago’s Annual Pride Parade.

I was squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder with shirtless men in rainbow spandex, the sweat from their brows dripping onto mine. I remember when their favorite float passed, and their arms (revealing armpits) lifted up…It wasn’t the most savory experience, for sure. But then, the PFLAG marchers came, and folks from the crowd went to greet them with open arms; men and women from the sidelines cheered for those lovingly marching with the Methodist church; parents marched proudly, hand-in-hand with open daughters and sons. It was the first time little me had the opportunity to share a space with so many like-minded people. It was an opportunity to rise above adversity which, let’s be honest, sometimes feels like the entire world. In a lot of ways, the Chicago Pride Parade did for me what no single experience had ever done before: it gave me a community, visibility, and a voice.

I encourage you, dear Reader, to line up along Halsted this Sunday, get shitfaced, and have fun. But please don’t forget all the things that will be bringing you there in the first place. Cheer loudly for the Minibar float, but save some applause for your openly gay politicians, queer-friendly houses of worship, health centers and other people and spaces that make the rainbow community not just something to be consumed, but something to be respected and valued.

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