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City reins in Gay Pride Parade in effort to cut down on drinking

Hands go up out trying catch beads other treats from floats during 42nd annual Pride Parade Sunday June 26 2011

Hands go up and out trying to catch beads and other treats from the floats during the 42nd annual Pride Parade Sunday June 26, 2011 in Chicago. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Photos: 42nd annual Chicago Gay Pride Parade
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Updated: November 16, 2011 8:40AM

Chicago is altering the route, size and starting time of its annual Gay Pride Parade to curb public drinking and accommodate crowds that topped 800,000 last year.

The most important change is the starting time. The parade held on the last Sunday in June will step off at 10 a.m. instead of noon.

“Unless you’re a hard-core drinker, most people don’t drink at 10 o’clock in the morning,” said parade coordinator Richard Pfeiffer.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), Chicago’s first openly-gay aldermen, added, “There’s people concerned about alcohol being consumed on that day. Complaints are that people actually bring their coolers and consume a lot. An earlier start time will promote less drinking.”

Burgeoning crowds have also forced several other changes.

The number of entries will be reduced from 250 to 200 to shorten the duration of the parade and return the streets to neighborhood residents sooner.

And the route of the parade will be lengthened five blocks — from 17 to 22 — and dramatically altered to stagger crowds, add two CTA L stations to accommodate arriving spectators and reduce neighborhood choke points.

The city’s second-largest parade used to begin at Belmont and Halsted, travel north on Halsted to Grace before making a V-turn back down Broadway from Grace to Diversey.

That prompted complaints from area residents that the parade created, what Tunney called a “dangerous situation” that cut off access to emergency vehicles and made it difficult for area residents to get home.

The new route will begin at the corner of Montrose and Broadway and travel south on Broadway to Halsted before turning east on Belmont, south on Broadway and east on Diversey to Canon Drive.

Once a niche parade known for its outlandish costumes, the Gay Pride Parade has fast become, what Tunney called a victim of its own success.

Attendance has doubled over the last three years — to roughly 800,000 a year ago. The parade has become a mandatory appearance for elected officials currying favor with the fast-growing, clout-heavy gay community. Friends and relatives of gay Chicagoans show up in force to support their loved ones.

“It’s a celebration of our history, of our politics and our civil rights. It’s also become a parade for everybody in the entire city. Outside of the Bud Billken parade, it’s now probably the city’s second-busiest parade. But, it’s outgrown its size. The route has become a real concern for public safety,” Tunney said.

“The question is, has the parade gotten too big for the neighborhood? Our feeling is, with these changes, it can still be a neighborhood parade.”

Pfeiffer said parade attendance has ballooned as “more and more gay people have come out” and the parade has drawn more straight spectators.

“Everybody has a best friend or a relative or someone they work with in the next cubicle who’s gay. That’s part of the increase in the crowd. To accommodate that increase, we needed to make changes to help make it a safer event,” he said.

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