Updated: July 26, 2012 6:12AM
The Pride Parade has become many things to Chicago — summer kick-off Mardi Gras, East Lakeview street festival, campaign duck-in-a-bucket giving politicians an easy shot at voters, corporate plug-a-palooza letting banks, airlines and auto dealers put on a show for gay consumers while minimizing the risk of rattling any straight customers.
And a chance for the media to gauge the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered — aka LGBT — communities’ quest toward attaining long-denied civil rights. Progress that can be, once again, called substantial.
“In the saga of the history of the gay and lesbian movement,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, standing at Montrose and Broadway just before the parade started, “in a three year window, you have had the hate crime bill signed into law. You have had a repeal of don’t ask/don’t tell. You’ve had visiting rights to hospitals. You’ve had a president on record now favoring gay marriage. You think back 40 years to Stonewall, it’s an incredible three years of historical proportions for gay and lesbian civil rights.”
Not only did the mayor march at the head of the parade — frequently bolting to one side of Broadway and then the other to shake hands with delighted spectators — but he was also joined by his two young daughters.
Once known for its eye-popping raunch — and there were still plenty of well-toned young men wearing smiles, skimpy underwear and not much else — the parade included more children than ever before. Two public elementary schools, Nettelhorst and Odgen, were represented, unofficially, by parent/student groups, as was Lakeview High School and the Chicago Waldorf School, an independent pre-kindergarten through high school academy.
One new aspect: members of the military could march openly in the parade this year.
“Everyone’s been supporting us,” said Richard Dumbrique, hospital corpsman third class and a member of G.L.A.S.S., or Great Lakes Area Gay, Lesbian and Supportive Sailors, a group at Great Lakes Naval Base.
This was the first time Dumbrique could march since joining the Navy five years ago.
“It means everything,” he said. “It means I can be myself. I love it. It makes me love the military more.”
Ann Foster, 26, founded G.L.A.S.S. “Back in January a few of us got together,” she said. “If I thought that six months later I’d be meeting the president and then marching in the Chicago Pride Parade.” She met Obama last weekend at a White House reception.
“It was awesome,” she said. “It was unreal. There were 500 people there from all walks of life, from all over the country, yet we were there for the same cause: LGBT empowerment. The fact that there were women in uniform there from the military. It was really something really special.”
Perhaps contrary to expectation, Foster said that founding a group for gay sailors has not drawn heat from the Navy.
“It’s been super positive the entire time,” she said. “I haven’t had any backlash or any issues at all. It’s been unreal.”
Maybe because times have changed. Last year’s parade had a huge turn-out, about 750,000 people. That led to logistical changes in the parade, which this year was both longer and shorter — longer in that five blocks were added to the route, which began at Montrose and Broadway. And shorter since it was reduced to 200 floats, bands and other registered entries, down from 250 last year.
“Just to tighten up the parade a bit,” said Richard Pfeiffer, the parade coordinator.
The changes helped, as they often do. The results were a less-congested parade route, particularly for the beginning segment in Uptown. The weather also cooperated — partly cloudy, 80s, but not as hot as last year.
The on-one-hand-this, on-the-other-hand-that dichotomy is the oldest trick in journalism. But it’s the only way to look at the 2012 Pride Parade. An event that celebrates both individuality and community. A colorful pageant reflecting the success of the LGBT community — a new book on gays is America is titled, simply, Victory — it can also be viewed as an orchestrated plea to fit in, to be accepted. A march through a neighborhood that, due to the success of gay people in establishing, not their difference, but their sameness, is becoming less gay, as LGBT people increasingly comfortable living anywhere, move out of sheltered enclaves like Boystown, while straight people keep moving in. All wrapped up together in one event that drew 850,000 people together.
“You see what you want,” said Pfeiffer, who has been involved in the parade since in 1971. “It’s an amalgam. Young and old. Some think it’s too political, some think it’s too social.”
I’d agree, yes, it is, all those things — too political, too social, too commercial, too festive, too colorful, too loud, too fun. As always.