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The Chicago Pride Parade Is Going “Straight” This Year

By Tony Peregrin in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 18, 2012 4:00PM

Photo Credit: Drew Baker

Openly gay, active-duty sailors, a new influx of gay-straight alliance groups from area high schools—and a police force that promises to hand out more tickets than ever for excessive drinking will all be part of the pomp and circumstance of this year’s 43rd annual Chicago Pride Parade.

Due to the sometimes unwieldy crowd of 750,000 spectators at last year’s parade (particularly at the intersection of Halsted and Belmont), officials were forced to shut down the parade early, leaving some 35 marching groups cooling their heels, and ultimately, unable to step off and join the parade.

Several changes have been put in place this year in an effort to promote safety at the Sunday, June 24 event—including a new, linear route.

In other words, parade officials are getting rid of the pride parade’s “V.” (No, get your minds out of the gutter. And yes, the parade will continue to feature plenty of T&A.)

“As you recall, in previous years there was a V in the parade heading north on Halsted,” explained Richard Pfeiffer, who has organized the parade since the 1970’s. “Traditionally, parade entries made a 360-degree turn off of Halsted onto Broadway, and then south on Broadway. That whole parcel of real estate was locked up tight in that area and people, not to mention emergency vehicles, couldn’t get in or out.”

To develop the new parade route—which has been lengthened by five additional blocks—Pfeiffer met with police and fire departments, emergency management leaders, Streets and Sanitation officials, and local businesses.

“The parade itself hasn’t grown—the amount of spectators has grown,” added Pfeiffer. “We’re seeing this at gay pride parades in other cities around the country. I think it has to do with more LGTB coming out, and with the growing number of friends and supporters the community has gained over the years.”

In fact, the parade itself has actually gotten smaller as a reduced number of parade float entries were accepted this year, from 250 down to 200 entries. According to Pfeiffer, that means there are about two dozen entries on a waiting list. “Every year we have a waiting list, actually. We tell people to register early, but some people, unfortunately, wait until the last minute to register.”

The map to this year's Chicago Pride Parade route.

In addition to modifications to the size and direction of the route, this year’s parade will feature six pedestrian crossover points (last year there were only two official crossover points), manned by four police officers at each of the six corners to assist spectators in crossing the parade route.

A word of warning: If you do seek out a nice member of the Po-Po to help you across the street—make sure you’re not drunk. According to Pfeiffer, 23rd District Cmdr. John Kenny and his team plan to start ticketing people for excessive drinking—even more so than in previous years—and while drinking on the street is not a jailable offense, fines are upwards of $500.

“We’re not going to be sitting at the "L" station asking to go through people’s stuff,” said Cmdr. Kenny in a recent article published in Inside Lincoln Park, a neighborhood newspaper. “And if you’re on your property, we’re not going to inspect what you have. But if we see any liquor, we’ll enforce it.”

“Look—they are not picking on the Gay Pride Parade,” explained Pfeiffer. “They’re doing more ticketing at all Chicago parades, not just Gay Pride. We encourage people to simply go to their neighborhood pubs after the parade. Or go to Pride North or the Back Lot Bash, both of which are fun, popular events located outside the Boystown neighborhood.”

In previous years, at the end of the parade, Halsted remained closed to traffic for a couple of hours, but this year organizers plan to remove barricades and open cross streets as soon as possible in an effort to help promote crowd dispersal. Also new this year are rolling closing times, according to Pfeiffer, which means cross streets will close as the parade travels south down the route.

All of the changes to the Chicago Gay Pride Parade this year, implemented to ensure everyone’s safety, have some feeling a severe case of Pride Parade Fatigue. Pfeiffer cheerfully dismisses the naysayers, and says gay pride parades are as relevant now as they were in the 70’s.

“Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade includes this vast array of everything. There are people promoting serious political and social issues, and then you have the go-go boys on the floats,” explained Pfeiffer. “It’s important to remember that we still live in a society where young gay people are committing suicide, where there’s still gay bashing, and in a country where we still do not have marriage equality for everyone. In fact, our grand marshal this year, Evan Wolfson, was named a key architect of the movement to legalize same-sex marriage by an article in The New York Times.”

Other standouts for this this year’s parade include several high school gay-straight alliance groups, including first time participant Lake View High School. “We’ve had a big influx of GSA’s this year. Some are either marching in the parade, like Lake View High, and some have just reached out to me to tell me they will be going to the parade to watch it this year—in the hope of participating in the parade next year,” said Pfeiffer.

With the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell last year, members of the Great Lakes Area Gay and Support Sailors (GLASS) group will also march this year—marking the first time sailors can participate without the fear of being outed. GLASS is reportedly the first non-academy, general base-sanctioned gay support group on any U.S. base in the world.

“These openly gay sailors will be marching right alongside LGBT veterans near the front of the parade,” revealed Pfeiffer. “The Chicago Gay Pride Parade is celebratory. And it’s serious. It’s a little bit of everything.”

The 2012 Chicago Pride Parade starts at noon June 24 at the corner of Broadway and Montrose, and finishes at Diversey and Sheridan. We advise you to get there early, among other things.

For more information, go here.

The crossover points are located at the following streets:

- Montrose Ave.
- Irving Park Rd.
- Addison St.
- Grace St.
- Roscoe St.
- Wellington Ave.