Chicago's 2011 Pride Parade was certainly one to remember, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Yes, the massive event's attendance topped 800,000, which is more than the entire population of Indianapolis. But the crowd proved to be unruly, and the narrow streets of Northalsted could hardly accommodate everyone comfortably.
The crowd congestion near the Center on Halsted was so bad that some onlookers had to retreat to avoid being trampled. There were a number of incidents of violence and vandalism, and, in the end, officials cut the parade short by diverting a number of floats away from the designated route. To better manage the increased popularity and raucous crowd that Chicago Pride attracts, parade coordinators have proposed several changes for the 2012 parade.
While I believe some of the changes -- particularly extending the route and limiting parade participants to 200 -- may provide the desired effect, the decision to start the parade earlier to decrease drinking is hilariously naive. Proving that he has never spent a night in Boystown, parade coordinator Richard Pfeiffer commented, "Unless you're a hard-core drinker, most people don't drink at 10 o'clock in the morning."
Boystown is one of the city's epicenters for "hard-core drinkers." Why do you think it is so densely packed with bars? Why do you think a large number of advertisers in the local gay press use space to promote their drink specials? It's largely a drinking community. Plus, let's not forget that the parade attracts a significant number of out-of-towners who are here specifically to let loose and have a good time, often with beverage in hand. Finally, is bumping the parade back a couple hours really going to change people's behavior? If they were drinking at noon, they'll drink at 10 a.m. Expect a lot of coolers packed with champagne and orange juice.
All of these changes fail to address the real problem: that the Pride Parade has lost its significance. I'm hardly the first person to point out the fact that the Pride Parade has strayed far from its original intent, which is to honor the rebellious spirits of Stonewall who actively fought to defend their right to convene in peace. And I'm not someone who says that Pride must be the gay equivalent of Yom Kippur, where we hang our heads in solemn remembrance. I think Pride should be fabulous. I think it should be a party. I just think it should also have a purpose greater than cheap well drinks and hybrid car advertisements.
You want to take a step to restore Pride to its original glory? Move the parade. The fact that we march in Boystown is equivalent to convening a picket line in your fenced-in backyard. Let's take the pizzazz of the parade and put it downtown. Let's march up and down the Magnificent Mile and show all those American Girl-toting mamas that we are still here, that we are still queer and hopefully they're getting used to it by now. There are additional benefits to hosting the parade downtown including wider streets, proximity to hotels and a lower density of drinking establishments.
Now if you really want to inject some fire into Pride, let's go one step further and move the parade to the South Side or the West Side. There, our revelry may actually have an impact on communities that disproportionately ostracize their own GLBT members. Sure, it might not be well received, but Pride is about celebrating in the face of adversity.
Of course, there's little chance the parade will ever move outside of its cozy Boystown home. The city probably prefers for the gays to stay sequestered in their rainbow-pillared strip. Meanwhile, the Northalsted Business Alliance would probably raise all kinds of hell at the prospect of losing patrons on one of the most profitable weekends of the year.
But for the sake of Pride, let's remain optimistic. Perhaps the 2012 parade will be remembered for its courteous patrons and its ability to spark social change. Or perhaps, once again, it'll end with a bunch of sloppy drunks, a street full of garbage and a collective walk of shame.