By Lilia Escobar
Every year, Chicago hosts its annual gay pride parades. I have, unfortunately, only attended the parade once but I hope to attend again in the future. These yearly events bring out the inner “divas” in all of my friends. Every year, I see countless posts from my friends dressed in the clothes that make them feel sexiest and surrounded by the most colorful individuals. The parade itself is very representative of the sexual liberation in the LGBTQ community. It is an event where it is okay to be who you are and being gay is something to celebrate! It is always a fun time, although it never fails to bring its share of business, traffic, violence, and accidents.
Reading over some articles reflecting on the Pride parade in Chicago, there is a wide array of responses to these events. One blog post, entitled “Crime in Wrigleyville and Boystown”, called the violence and crime surrounding the event “the usual.” In the comments section, one individual weighed in, “Pride? It’s a shame how Chicago has portrayed us in the public eye in sake of the almighty $. Seriously…” This argument isn’t something new. One thing these arguments fail to see is whom these events are created for.
One of the questions introduced by this commenter is, do Pride parades create a positive or negative image of the LGBTQA community? In a survey conducted by City Data, the results revealed a general belief that Pride parades create an overall negative representation of the queer community to both heterosexual individuals and non-heterosexual individuals. Reading through a discussion of the subject on Quora.com, a commenter brought up a new perspective on the question: “The original intent of gay pride events were designed to create neither a positive nor a negative impact…it’s more reasonable to assume that the point was to demonstrate that gays were a group larger and more organized…” This is an interesting point and brings up a concern: are the parades even intended to impact the perception of the LGBTQ community? Thinking about other parades (Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, etc.) these are generally celebration, not a stage for representation of any given group involved. People rarely use the St. Patrick’s Day parade to make a critical analysis of Irish-Americans. The part in the quote where the commenter mentions organization is an intriguing concept I had not thought about in analyzing Pride parades. Sure, the event is a celebration and a public statement of liberation, but it is also a way of proving the movement’s strength, presence, and threat. It makes a statement of “we’re here to stay and we’re not alone,” as countless queer folks and allies walk proudly through the parade.
The place where this sense of resilience and power becomes tricky is when it compromises the rest of the Chicago community and/or violates other city laws. A Chicago news site called DNAinfo addressed the issue of police crackdown on public drinking. A local Chicagoan argued, “There were too many people for police to realistically enforce the rule…” This is where the argument against the parade stops being about gay public representation and starts being about the exemption of city law because there is just too large of a group involved in the breaking of a law. While the argument against Pride parades may become about crime and public intoxication, it does not change the impact and importance of the parade. The same arguments can be applied to just about any other public event, parade, or march.
Thinking back on the concept of gay liberation movements, these parades create an interesting paradox. If the parades are indeed created to show the strength of the movement and/or the organization of the movement, who are they trying to prove themselves to? Queer culture in itself calls for strength and empowerment, so why do they have to prove they can organize an event like a parade?
Even with this, the pride parade still makes a big statement, and that is something that it will never lose. For individuals seeking sexual freedom, the parade is a place to step out publicly in a way that they might never have otherwise. The parade allows for sexuality to be expressed on a spectrum in a way that is not obvious anywhere else. You’ll see all of the letters of the alphabet soup represented, as well as subtle differences from sexual/gender “norms.” This is something special that only public celebrations as this can spark.
With that, the magic and beauty of a Pride celebration should be preserved. If this means enforcing the laws in a stricter way, or assuring the safety of all the individuals involved, so be it. There is a much larger and more important message that should not be silenced by the incidence of violence and law-breaking at these events.