Cheers resonated throughout Chicago’s North Side yesterday as hundreds of thousands of people gathered to celebrate diversity and call for equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LBGT) community at the 43rd Annual Chicago Pride Parade. Progress Illinois was there for the festivities, along with several of the couples fighting for marriage equality in the Land of Lincoln.
Cheers resonated throughout Chicago’s North Side yesterday hundreds of thousands people gathered to celebrate diversity and call for equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LBGT) community at the 43rd Annual Chicago Pride Parade.
Largely similar to last year, bare-skin and rainbows were abundant while glitter, Fruit Loops and confetti rained from the sky, but this year marked several firsts for one of the United States’ largest gay pride parades. Along with a new route, this year’s celebration saw a record 850,000 attendees, a larger collection of religious groups than years past and, for the first time, members of the military could openly participate.
Chicago’s parade also follows some recent major victories on the long road to LGBT equality: President Barack Obama’s public support for gay marriage, the legalization of civil unions in Illinois and proposed state legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage, and an Illinois lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of denying gay and lesbian couples the freedom to marry.
“It feels really good to be here, we’re here for a cause. Right now, there’s some talk about Illinois repealing the ban on same-sex marriage and it’s great to know that people in Illinois feel that way,” said Theresa Volpe, 31, who lives in Rogers Park and owns BrainWorx Studio with her partner, Mercedes Santos, 46. Together, with their children, Ava, 7, and Jaidon, 4, Volpe and Santos marched with Lambda Legal in Chicago’s Pride Parade.
Santos and Volpe are plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Cook County Clerk David Orr's office that claims denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples is a violation of the couples’ rights to due process and equal protection under the Illinois Constitution. Orr, who also attended Sunday's Pride festivities, has publicly voiced his support for the lawsuit, stating "Marriage equality is long overdue in Illinois. I support it in no uncertain terms." There are 24 other couples, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Lambda Legal, involved in the lawsuit, which was filed on May 30 and is in its preliminary phase.
“We always raise our children to stand up when they see injustices happening, we teach them to stand up and speak out, and if we didn’t do that because we’re being treated unfairly, we would not be living by that model,” said Volpe.
On the first day civil unions could be conducted in Illinois, Volpe and Santos were one of the dozens of couples to participate in a ceremony in Millennium Park.
“Although we were happy to have that union, it showed us what separated us from other couples ... there’s a big imbalance,” said Volpe in an interview, as she and her family waited for the parade to start and The Windy City Cowboys practiced their routine to a Shania Twain song nearby.
“We should be able to marry, it’s recognizable to us and it’s recognizable to our children,” she said. “It was important for us to be a part of this case and show our children that we deserve to be recognized as a legal family and we deserve the same rights that other families get.”
The attorneys who would normally be responsible for defending the state's laws, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez have supported the lawsuit, and refuse to defend the 16-year-old marriage ban on same-sex marriage.
“It was an easy to decision to make, because when my staff and I looked at whether the statute violates the equal protection clause of the Illinois Constitution, it’s clear to us that it does,” said Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez as she stood near her float for Sunday's parade. This was the fourth consecutive year for Alvarez to participate in the Pride event. “People have said that’s it’s a rare or unusual position for us to take, but we believe it’s the right thing to do legally and it’s the right thing to do because it’s the humane thing to do.”
Marching with Alvarez’s float was her chief of staff, Dan Kirk, an openly gay man with a partner of seven years, Brian Wolff.
“(Pride) is always so much fun, you can’t beat the energy and the excitement,” said Alvarez. “Every year, it gets better and better.”
Other floats in the Pride Parade from organizations and politicians included the Chicago Teachers Union, Center on Halsted, ABC7, Ald. Danny Solis (25th), the SEIU Illinois Council*, the Team to End AIDS, Dikes on Bikes, Temple Shalom, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, and the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, joined by his two young daughters, and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn led the parade as it winded through the city's Uptown and Lakeview neighborhoods.
“I see this parade as more than just a celebration of gay pride, but a celebration that we all come from diverse backgrounds and cultures,” said Ald. Joe Moore (49th). Moore said he has been participating in Pride for more than 22 years and avidly supports same sex marriage. “I suspect it’s only a matter of time before marriage equality becomes part of our federal constitution.”
“I always have a great time at Pride, so many great people come out to celebrate,” he said.
A small collection of approximately 20 protesters gathered near the end of the parade route at Diversey Avenue and Clark Street, but parade participants largely paid no attention to signs promising eternal damnation, save for a few obscene hand gestures.
“We think it’s time for marriage to be for everybody,” said Tim Kee, 47, as he waited to march with ACLU alongside his partner of 15 years, Rick Wade, 41. Kee and Wade are another one of the nine couples represented by the ACLU in the lawsuit against Orr's office.
“Civil unions are not recognized the way that marriages are, it feels like it’s something less than marriage,” said Wade. The couple drove for more than five hours to be apart of Chicago's Pride Parade.
“You grow up wanting to be married, you don’t grow up wanting to be civil unionized,” he said.
Here's more from Chicago's 2012 Pride Parade:
* The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this web site.