Do Something New: Walk In The Pride Parade

Spectating Chicago’s Pride Parade is, from my perspective, objectively awful. I do it every year despite the fact that last year it was 95 degrees out and someone who lived above Bobtail Ice Cream at Wellington and Barry, where I was spectating, accidentally dropped a bottle of vodka from a third-floor window and it landed about six inches shy of my person; despite the fact that my first year spectating I fainted in the middle of the crowd (don’t worry, my friend Jo was with me); despite the fact that if you happen to be on the lake side of the route, good luck getting back over to the Brown or Red train lines to hightail it outta there unless you wait until the very end of the parade or are OK with walking two miles out of your way to get behind the end of the parade; despite the literal million sweaty, drunk people you’re stuck partying with.

#pawschicagopride #pride #parade #Chicago

A photo posted by Rebecca Brink (@rebeccavipondbrink) on

To be fair, it’s a pretty good crowd. I tolerate it because to go to the Pride Parade and inevitably get Instagrammed while you’re shitfaced and covered in glitter, you have to either be a self-identifying member of the GLBTQ+ community and having the once-a-year experience of your identity being posed as normal, or you have to be a self-identifying ally of that community, there to voice your support of GLBTQ+ people as normal members of our society. Most of Chicago’s mass parties – like the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the Hawks parade, or any Cubs game – are just an opportunity to get wasted, while the Pride Parade is an opportunity to get wasted for a good cause.

Regardless, I now have the experience of walking in the Pride Parade, after spectating since I was 14 years old, and I’m never going back. I requested to volunteer with PAWS Chicago, whose acronym stands for Pets Are Worth Saving, and which is Chicago’s premier no-kill animal shelter. My fiancé and I adopted a healthy, happy, intelligent, and also very beastly blue heeler from PAWS in February, so I thought that if I wanted to walk in the Pride Parade, doing it while helping to do advocacy for our animal shelter would be worthy. As a side note: Did you know that heelers, also known as Australian cattle dogs, were originally the result of breeding collies and dingos? Like, actual dingos. My dog is half-dingo, in other words. I’m pretty sure she’s asexual and mostly just wants to herd things (like humans and larger dogs), or, failing that, kill things (mainly rodents and birds), and I’m proud of her.

  #pawschicagopride   A photo posted by Rebecca Brink (@rebeccavipondbrink) on

Anyway, I was the first volunteer to arrive because I need to occupy my Sunday mornings more vibrantly, and got to see what float setup entails: Mainly, getting snacks and cold water and Gatorade set up for the walkers, portioning out pins and bandanas for later-arriving volunteers who’d be handing them out along the route, and making an array of flare for people to wear. I chose a rainbow umbrella, but had the option of flags, little signs that said “Purr” and “Woof” or had dog or cat faces on them, sparkly magic wands, boas, bowties, very large feathers, you name it. Oh, and of course, there’s a PA system to set up on the float. I noted that I couldn’t remember a single year of attendance in which the PAWS float wasn’t playing “Who Let the Dogs Out” as it passed, but thankfully, this year, the playlist was updated. (It also had “What’s New, Pussycat?” along with some more modern hits. It was an amusing mix.)

Once the parade started, it became immediately clear to me that the best way to see the Pride Parade is to walk in the Pride Parade. There’s a lot that you miss, sure, like all of the floats other than the floats that are immediately in front of and behind you (for us, that was an Episcopal church and the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus); and furthermore, standout events like a car driving through the parade barriers and a die-in staged at the busy intersection of Addison and Halsted orchestrated by a group calling themselves Black Out Pride, who were there to protest how white the parade tends to be (very) and how biased the GLBTQ community has been toward the needs of its white community members (also very). All of that must have happened well after PAWS, Entry Number 32, had passed the high-traffic areas of Lakeview, because things went proceeded pretty smoothly for us.

But there’s a lot you do get to see, mainly the crowd. Most people probably conceptualize the Pride Parade as a mass of spectators (the crowd on the sidelines) and the spectacle (the parade participants). But that’s all really a matter of perspective. I saw just as much that was interesting and entertaining and moving from the middle of the street as I ever did from the sidewalk. I saw a tiny, lone, beglittered sign that read, “SO IT IS ORDERED,” the last words of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states from last Friday’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision. I saw a tiny little old European lady with a scarf wrapped around her head sitting in a sling chair she’d obviously had to set up very early in the morning to be right up next to the parade barriers, beaming at the parade participants. I saw very drunk people who were easily mesmerized by a twirling, rainbow-colored umbrella. I saw people who had taken a great deal of care to hand-construct the outfits they showed up wearing. In total, I saw – personally saw with my eyes – hundreds of thousands of people who cared very much about this event, who were rallying around the belief that I am, and people like me are, a normal and valued part of their community.

IT IS SO ORDERED #scotus #pawschicagopride #pride #parade #Chicago   A photo posted by Rebecca Brink (@rebeccavipondbrink) on

By some dumb luck, I managed to pick the right year to walk in the Pride Parade for the first time, when it took place just two days after the most monumental Supreme Court decision on the side of civil rights and social equality that the United States has seen in maybe decades. That decision made me happier than I could express with words. As a queer person, I have never felt so much like my compatriots really saw me as an American, and the Parade was the right way to celebrate. I’ve never been so proud.

You all should definitely donate to or volunteer with PAWS. Send me a line at [email protected] and follow me on Facebook. All photos via my Instagram, where you can see even more Pride pictures.