Walking down North Halsted on a warm summer night, you can’t miss the excitement filling the air. Even for a Tuesday, it seems to be more crowded than usual. Bars, shops and restaurants across Boystown are all rushing to prepare for the biggest weekend in Chicago — for the gay community, that is.
That’s right, guys and gals. This week marks Pride week in the city, anchored by the 43rd annual Chicago Pride Parade. For a whole weekend, all colors of the LGBT spectrum make their way to East Lakeview to celebrate the one thing we all have in common. It’s no secret that gays know how to party — and the result is the biggest shit show in Chicago since former Mayor Daley shut the South Side Irish parade down.
For most of us, Pride is more than just a slosh-fest. It’s a way for gays to celebrate who we are in whatever capacity we feel best suits the occasion. Some down a bottle of Skinny Girl; others remember that we were born this way in quiet observance. Even if you’re not using the weekend as an excuse to get obscenely drunk and wear as little clothing as possible, it’s important to remember that others before us fought ridicule and humiliation so we could be openly proud of who we are.
On the flip side, not everyone who comes to clog Halsted and Broadway is celebrating their own homosexuality. Last year, city authorities estimated that 750,000 people attended the parade — a 100 percent increase from the previous year. If you were there, you remember the insanity.
Three-quarters of a million people is far larger than Chicago’s gay population, which various estimates put at between 125,000 and 250,000. That means quite a few of those who attend the parade are actually straight allies.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that gay culture has officially made its way into the mainstream. More and more of our straight friends are interested in taking part in what must look like a very liberated subculture to them. The other reason is, well, everyone likes to go to a good bash — and there’s none like Pride.
Many of my straight friends come down just for the fun. In the process, though, they get immersed in a culture they find quite exciting. It may mean something different for us, but being able to see all walks of humanity come together on what is usually a beautiful day is what the spirit of Pride is for me.
The parades and festivals across the country serve more of a purpose than putting on a good show. It demonstrates the duality of our dilemma—we as a community should celebrate our uniqueness, but we must also show the rest of the world we’re not so different.
If the LGBT community’s goal is equality, then the idea of Pride is to balance this line. Equality doesn’t have to mean conformity.
If Pride isn’t your thing — you don’t like crowds or you see it as a frivolous way of celebrating homosexuality — don’t forget what the original meaning of the events. Forty-three years ago, the activists who put on Chicago’s first parade faced far less joyous and mainstream celebration. But they forged through so we could enjoy this day in peace. You don’t need to get wasted at a street party to appreciate the movement we’re all a part of.