Mainstreamed: The Gay Pride Parade

Mainstreamed: The Gay Pride Parade

There will come a time when every evil
That we know will be an evil . . .
— Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance

When I first moved to Boystown 25 years ago, members of the Gay community were generally outsiders, as unfortunate as that might have been.  A lot has changed since, as today's 49th annual Chicago Gay Pride parade aptly demonstrated.  Although the parade fell into a predictable mode years ago, this year, the cumulative dulling of what was once edgy should have been readily apparent to even the most casual observer.

The usuals were all out in force: the leather people, the Gay men's chorus, the equality nonprofits, and the anti-circumcision crowd.  This being Chicago, there also were the politicians looking for money and votes.  You've seen JB endlessly on the web--he makes you watch the entire ad rather than allowing you to skip it after five seconds.  Today you saw all of him in the flesh, along with Gary McCarthy, Paul Vallas, Kwame Raoul, Dorothy Brown, and many others. New to the parade this year, at least as far I can recall, was the Obama Foundation, which for many, was a welcome sight.

But most notably, you saw the endless flow of corporate buses and marchers:  Deloitte, KPMG, Microsoft, Com Ed, Walgreens, Comcast, PayPal, Mercedes, United and American Airlines, Hyatt, Starbucks, Kraft Heinz, Accenture, Baxter, Siemens, Gap, Annheuser-Busch, Tyson Foods, Allstate, Verizon, Macy's, TD Ameritrade, AIG, Hertz, Hilton, Lyft, Nike, Google, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Discover Financial, Navigant, Nordstrom, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, JP Morgan, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, Facebook, Bloomingdales, Bank of America, Boeing, T-Mobile, MKTG INC'Smirnoff, and BP.   Many of these corporations have been participants for years, but the sheer number this year was overwhelming.  You have to wonder whether Koch Industries will have a float next year.

All were present in the staging area at Montrose and Broadway when I arrived at 10:05 AM as at least two helicopters flew over head.  The security was even tighter than in past years, but I managed to work my way around the temporary and new cyclone fencing for an up close look at the assembling marchers and party goers.

At first, I was a bit disappointed:  Last year, a nightclub sponsored some colorfully attired and painted folks, but the club apparently decided not to sponsor them this year.  I did find some stylishly attired Puerto Rican drag queens, one of whom was a refugee from last year's hurricane.  And the leather people were out in full force.  Gotta love the pups.

Donald Trump would have been disappointed.  I only saw one reference to him during the entire parade, although there were some Black Lives Matter and immigration chants, which are not so subtle comments on Trump's America.  Interestingly, the anti-Trump screed was from a pro-Palenstian group.

After inadvertently and unknowingly photographing Mayor Rahm Emanuel, I hopped the subway, heading back down to the parade's ending point at Diversey and Sheridan.  That's where I usually hang out while the parade is in progress.  The crowd size was significantly down from last year.  At points along Diversey, it wasn't even one deep.

Reuben Israel, the street preacher, was behind police barricades, as he and his fellow protesters are every year.  Like the crowd on Diversey, Reuben's ranks were thinner than normal.  I would estimate that the protesters were down by about two-thirds.  Israel was up on his ladder, white bullhorn in hand.  He half-heartedly recited his usual banter about dildos and sin, but tellingly, he went into a short monologue about how bored he was with the festivities.  I am never sure why these folks come.  They unwittingly validate what they view as a "way of life" they profess to hate.

I do have to agree with Reuben, though.  The parade has become a bore.  I asked a cop at around 3:15 PM how much longer we had to go.  She answered, "A good hour is left."  The small police "walkie talkie" strapped to her chest gave creditability to her claim. 

The marching bands are few and far between.  It now is mostly large buses, with corporate logos and rather ordinary white collar workers half-heartedly pumping and thrusting their breasts and genitals to this decade's variant of once maligned disco music.  

Those who were living in Chicago in 1979 remember Disco Demolition Night at the old home of the White Sox, Comisky Park.  A riot erupted as disco records were blown up on the field, but over the intervening years,  disco, or offshoots of it, have risen from those ashes.  Exuberant dance music has always been associated with Gay culture, so there is at least a correlation between the rebirth of dance music and the widespread acceptance of the LGBQT community.

Boring is what happens when a community is mainstreamed.  Even one local magazine's annual entry was a disappointment.  Normally, I can count on getting a couple of images of athletic men displaying their large packages in what essentially is jock-strap underwear.  Not this year.  I think I counted six or so dancers on the float, and their efforts were half-hearted at best.  As for many others riding the buses and floats with midriffs bared, their (or their predecessors') six-pack abs, so prevalent two decades ago, were long gone.

So why bother?  I have been asking myself that for the last several years.  At the end of the day, there are probably somewhere between 500,000 and a million people, many of whom have been drinking liquor and smoking weed.  At least those are the sort of police counts I skeptically read year after year in the paper.  For many spectators, the parade is a party under the surprisingly tolerant eyes of a large concentration of CPD officers.   For me, it is an exercise in what is a variant of street photography.

As a wider cultural phenomenon, the parade has become a celebration of normalcy, despite some of the outrageous costumes.  I suspect when many of the colorful characters head back to work on Monday morning, they look just like you and me.  And isn't that what equality is all about?  By becoming routine, the parade celebrates Gays just like St. Patrick Day's celebrates the Irish, Columbus Day celebrates the Italians, and the Easter Parade celebrates bunnies and bonnets.  Contrary to the belief of Trump and his base, we are all in this together. 

Headed to the Parade

Street Desire

A Lovely Lovely

A Friendly Chicago Cop

A Small Float Goes Under the Radar

Hangin' Out

"Out in Chicago" in a Mercedes

Reuben Israel, A Parade Staple

"Love Knows No Limits" After a Bottle of Smirnoff

Two Bikers and a Lot of Balloons

Double Rainbow

A Gentle Smile Under Colorful Hair

J.B. Pritzker Wants to Stop the Violence

Waiting for the Brown Line

Another Lovely

The Devil Made Me Drink It

"Just Drop My Body on the Steps of the F.D.A."




"We Buy Gold" and Donald Trump Loves Gold Plated Plumbing

Baby, Let It Rip


Is This Charile?

"You Can Play"

A Look of Wonderment

Just One Look

"Stand With Love"

Coming Attractions


Thankful That There Were No Horses in the Parade


"Black Men, Loving Black Men"

"Don't Fuck With Us; Don't Fuck Without Us"

"Police Line-Do Not Cross"

Good Teeth, Pink Tongue

Balloons Make Everyone Happy

"Just Be You"

Photographer's Notes: The parade goers may have loved the bright sunny day, particularly after so much rain during the prior week.  As a photographer, I hated it.  Metering the scenes was difficult, particularly when tracking a float from the west (coming at me) to the east (heading away from me).  I normally shoot on manual, but today I decided to use aperture priority.  I found myself constantly overriding the camera's settings, so I quickly switched back to may preferred mode.  Thankfully, Lightroom's new luminosity masking feature helped me eliminate some of the otherwise too bright highlights.

I did carry come credentials with me.  They worked like a charm, giving me access to the street rather than the sidewalk behind the barricades.  That was fun, particularly walking against the marchers.  I did have to pay attention to avoid soap bubbles on lens and buses coming at me.

As for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, I was trying to photograph the crowd at the start of the parade.  Some idiot in a bland shirt and pants walked into my shot.  On reviewing the photographs, I realized it was the Mayor.  GTFOOMSA.

March for Our Rights

March for Our Rights

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