Gay Pride Parade

Everyone knows what happens in Chicago on the last Sunday in June: The Gay Pride Parade.  Having lived on the periphery of Boystown for over two decades, I've been to my share.  Each year the parade is a little more corporate and a little less outrageous, reflecting the mainstream acceptance of gay people.  It may be time for the pendulum to swing back toward outrageous, but the organizers don't want to go there, particularly given threats from city officials that the parade will be moved to Grant Park if there is too much public drinking and mayhem.   

I began the day at the intersection of Halsted and Roscoe, which is Boystown central.  Then I headed up Halsted to Montrose, where the parade assembles.  Already the parade felt very corporate, but I managed to find the leather people about three blocks west on Montrose, together with a colorfully attired crew from the Smart Bar.  Yes, the outrageous antidotes to corporate.  Shortly after the parade kicked off at noon, I hopped on the 'L' (celebrating its 125th anniversary this year), and headed down to Diversey Parkway, so that I could position myself at the "exit chute" where the parade turns into Lincoln Park and ends.  I had the perfect vantage point.

Security was highly visible, including brown-shirted SWAT teams.  Sharpshooters on rooftops are the new normal for large public events in Chicago.  I didn't see any, but the Chicago Tribune reported seeing long guns on rooftops..  

The weather was excellent.  As the day progressed, large cumulus clouds appeared in the sky, with the temperature hovering in the upper 60s.  The lighting was not particularly challenging, although there were 3 to 4 stop shifts as the sun played hide and seek with the clouds.  Given the pleasant day, I was a bit surprised by the crowd.  The Chicago Tribune reported that more than 250,000 people were expected to line the 4-mile parade route, which if true, would be significantly below the 750,000 to 1,000,000 attendees in prior years.   After the parade, ABC7 News was reporting the number at 1,000,000, but I don't believe that number for a second.  The parade route on Diversey Parkway filled up as the day progressed, but attendance was definitely down.

Also down was the amount of public drinking and lascivious behavior.  Oh, I saw plenty of beer cans, as well as opaque water bottles, but very little simulated sex or tonsil diving.  Those on the floats were pumping their pelvises and shaking their fannies, but with nowhere near the abandon of earlier years. Pot smoking was largely nonexistent, at least based on the absence of telltale odors.

There is an obvious explanation for all the angelic boys and girls.  There are now over 150 entries in the parade, many being denizens of corporate America.  Let's face it, when you work for Allstate Insurance or Deloitte LLP, you don't want stories circulating through the office on Monday morning about your behavior Sunday afternoon, particularly if your arch enemy in the office cubicles documents it using a Facebook GoLive video.

Among those represented were Accenture, American Airlines, Aon, Bloomingdale's, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, BMO Harris Bank, Baxter Healthcare, Boeing, British Petroleum, Comcast, ComEd, CME Group, Discover Financial Services, Facebook, Gap, Hyatt Hotels, JPMorgan Chase, KMPG, Kraft Heinz, Liberty Mutual, Microsoft, Navigant, Nordstrom, Northrup Grumman, Orbitz, PepsiCo, SalesForce, Sears, Starbucks, T-Mobile, Tesla, TD Ameritrade, Thompson Chicago, Tyson Foods, United Way, Walgreens, and WW Granger.  In other words, the gay segment of the population and others who attend the parade are a powerful consumer demographic.  

Here's the problem.  Many of these corporations aren't all that creative when it comes to putting together their entries. Too often it is a tourist bus or trolley, with a portable sound system blasting Lady Gaga or disco staples and a bunch of workers and family members attired in corporate t-shirts.  

Also in the mix are the politicians.  This year gubernatorial candidates Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker were well represented.  I did see Kennedy in the flesh, but I looked in vain for Pritzker, and if you have seen his annoying ads on television or YouTube, you know that his less than diminutive figure is hard to miss.  I was pleasantly surprised to see former Governor Pat Quinn marching the parade route.  I assume he was promoting his term limits initiative.

And then there are the nonprofits.  Not surprisingly, gay advocacy groups are well represented, as are organizations that cater to human and pet health.  The media also gets into the action.  Perennial favorites Bozo the Clown, Tom Skilling (WGN), and Terri Hermmert (WXRT) were perched on floats.  I didn't see Dean Richards, but I bet he was there.  Somewhat surprisingly, Fox was also present.

Once you get past the aforementioned august organizations, there isn't a whole lot of original programing.  I remain a fan of the Leather & Fetish people, as well as the group that showed up from the Smart Bar, but I am a photographer, so I like people who dress for the occasion.  

There is a simple solution to corporate self-promotion.  The organizers should cut an hour or two out of the parade, eliminate all the buses, trollies, and platoons of corporate employees going through the motions.  The organizers should then ask the corporations to fund more meaningful floats and mobile entertainment.

The big disappointment this year was Reuben Israel and his crew who come every year to protest all things gay.  The crowd wasn't taking the bait, which means uninteresting photographs.   In this realm, confrontation is necessary for a good photograph.  It doesn't need to be violent, heat is the critical ingredient.  I have a sequence from a few years back showing the cops handcuffing a young kid.  He went "downtown," according to one police officer, apparently for resisting arrest.

Over the years, I have gotten to know one of Israel's lieutenants.  He comes up from Florida.  This year he asked about my health, noting that we are both getting older.  He also asked about the family.  I always avoid getting into a discussion about the issues of the day with him or religion, but he seems like a genuinely nice person.  I was a bit surprised that the protesters didn't rely more heavily on Trump to incite the crowd.  I saw only one member of the group wearing Trump paraphernalia--A red "Make America Great Again" cap.

I am not sure why the anti-gay protesters bother coming anymore.  They've lost the battle, as the heavy corporate presence aptly demonstrates, but they were there. I didn't spend enough time at the protest location this year to ascertain whether there were any arrests.  I doubt it.  The police were fairly relaxed and visibly amused, and I saw no police wagons or cars on the adjacent street.

One thing is for sure: Donald Trump would been unhappy had he been a spectator.  There were scattered references to him, but not many.  None of those was particularly noteworthy.

Overall, it was a relaxed day, but I worked the full seven hours that I was out, except for one break for a Coke at McDonald's.  I did experience a first.  Toward the end of the parade, one enthusiastic Twentysomething approached me with his lips puckered and ready.  I had done high fives in the past, as well as fist bumps, but no tongue, which was clearly where he was headed.  As tempting as this genuine offer might have been, I took a pass.  After the guy had walked four miles along the route, I could only begin to imagine where his mouth had been.

Photographer's Note:  I used my Fuji GFX 50S with the 32mm to 64mm zoom lens and my Olympus OMD-1E, Mark II with 40mm to 150mm zoom lens, which is a 75mm to 300mm 35mm equivalent.  This kit worked like a charm.

As for the photography:  This sort of event is more challenging than many might assume.  It is difficult to get clean backgrounds and shots without some clown yawing, taking a selfie, or holding a large plastic water bottle.  I did manage to get the establishing shots, but as the included photographs demonstrate, I am more interested in portraits and the outlandish, which is not necessarily representative of parade taken as a whole.  I guess there is a little bit of Diane Arbus in me.

Click on a photograph to enlarge it, and many of these are worth the closer look that comes with size.



Double Hearts and Hands Touching

Marchers and Floats Staged on Montrose Merge Into the Parade's Route

Here Come the Bikers

Smartly Attired in Desert Gear

Looking Skyward

A Streets and Sans TruckStrategically Placed to Prevent a Terrorist Driving a Car into Parade Goers Lining the Route

Minister Waives at The Crowd

Behind the Police Barricades Separating Protesters From the Crowd


SWAT Teams Were Out and About




Double Claps

Nobody Seemed to Notice

Complementary Colors

Dancing the Afternoon Away

Candy Face and Wrist Straps


Gubernatorial Candidate J.B. Pritzker is Nowhere to Be Seen



Street Preacher Reuben Israel Protesting the Pride March

When the Whip Comes Down

Chihuly Head

Color Corporate Branding

Stop Clowning Around: Pass a State Budget


Chicago Leather & Fetish Pride

Pretty in Pink

"Make America Gay Again ="


That's What It's All About

Cool Beret and Even Cooler Sunglasses

Strategically Placed Cubs Sticker (Full Disclosure:  A Light Pole Was Removed)

"Who You Talking To?"

Taking a Load Off

Taking a Break for a Smoke

"Obey Your Signal Only"


Counter Protester Raises a Finger

Checking Facebook? 

Yelling and Waving

Nicely Groomed

Runny Mascara

Acknowledging the Recent Tragedy in Portland, Oregon

Wells Fargo's Presence

Boy Scout

Posing for a Group Photo At the End of the Parade Route

Public Art

Public Art