06/22/2012 10:34 am ET Updated Aug 22, 2012

Under One Rainbow

Recently, I was walking along Broadway Street in Chicago's Northside. Looking above, I saw rainbows lining the street, officially welcoming Chicagoland's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community to the area. No surprise, rainbow banners and flags were hanging outside nearly every shop and in every window. As a Chicago native, I could never have imagined such a welcoming sign to LGBTQ people when I first came out so many years ago. Today, those rainbows serve as a visible reminder of the great progress we've made as a community.

In the past several years, the visibility of Chicagoland's LGBTQ community has grown out of our traditional neighborhood enclaves and into every corner of the greater Chicago area. As our community has grown, so have our legal rights and protections. Last year, we won Civil Unions here in Illinois. Nationally, we were able to overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And this year, our president, a longtime friend of Chicagoland's LGBTQ community, made history when he came out in favor of marriage equality.

In 1969, this progress was unimaginable. There was no Center on Halsted. There were no civil unions. There was no nationwide movement for equality. Instead there was fear of abuse, hate and discrimination -- from our families, our workplaces and our government. One hot June night that year, a small group of patrons, mostly drag queens, at New York's Stonewall Inn had had enough. The Inn was constantly raided by local police who would torment the patrons, sometimes physically abusing them, arresting them or demanding bribes. When the police arrived that night, the patrons fought back, declaring their right to be who they are -- free from abuse and hate. In the process they changed the course of LGBTQ history forever.

The following June, a small group of 150 activists gathered in downtown Chicago to march on what is known today as Daley Plaza to declare their pride and to honor those patrons at the Stonewall on the one year anniversary. That gathering, along with similar ones in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, became the nation's very first pride parade.

Now, 40 years later, more than 800,000 community members and allies gather every June in Lakeview -- and, thanks to this year's expanded route, Uptown -- to celebrate Chicagoland's LGBTQ community. It's a time for us all to celebrate. It's also a time to reaffirm ourselves to the ongoing struggle for equality and acceptance because, even though we've made progress, there is still work to be done.

There are still neighborhoods and towns in our region where there are no rainbows affirming LGBTQ people. There are still schools where our young people are bullied and tormented. There are still community centers and houses of worship where we are castigated and persecuted. There are still retirement communities and nursing homes where our seniors are forced back into the closet.

Though we will gather this weekend on the city's Northside, let's remember that our community is everywhere -- on the Westside, the Southside, the suburbs, in Indiana and Wisconsin. Let's work together to advance the health and well-being of our entire community in every neighborhood, not just during Pride but throughout the entire year. You can start by coming out us this weekend for the parade. Your presence will send a message of support and encouragement throughout our region. You can continue by donating or volunteering at Center on Halsted as we continue working to advance the health and well-being of the LGBTQ community across the city.

And one day soon, no matter where we live, we will hopefully look up and see a rainbow shining above us all. Happy Pride!