June is Pride Month in Chicago and cities around the country. It is a celebration of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities, marking the June 1969 start of the modern gay-rights movement. While it was ignited by the Stonewall rebellion in New York City, the fight for equality across the country had begun decades prior to 1969, and even as early as the 1910s and 1920s in Chicago.
But “pride” is a complicated word that has become synonymous with a diverse movement for equality. Dictionaries define pride both as a negative (as in a conceit or inordinate self-esteem, almost out of place to reality) and as a positive (a quite reasonable level of self-respect). But it can also be a “showy or impressive group” or even a family of animals (lions).
In some ways, all those definitions fit Pride Month in Chicago: sometimes over-the-top, other times showing self-respect, often showing off our strengths, and usually loving each other as a family should.
This Pride Month has been especially good in Illinois. June 1 marked the first civil-union licenses issued in this state to same-sex couples. Mayor Rahm Emanuel hosted a 1,000-person Pride Month celebration. The month ends with the Pride Parade, the Dyke March on the South Side, the Proud to Run race, and numerous other celebrations both boasting and boisterous. And Pride is not just for gays anymore: tens of thousands of heterosexuals join in, or watch, the Pride Parade on Chicago’s North Side.
However, the Pride Parade is not all things to all people. Some call it “too corporate” and others say it is “too crass.” It is too assimilationist for some, too radical for others. Our community has always believed “we are everywhere,” so that means at corporations, in the bars, in the streets, and on the floats. We would be hypocrites not to welcome the activists along with the corporate employees, because our whole agenda it about people being who they are, where they are.
So what does it really mean to have “pride”? And as the community sees much progress on our issues, especially in Chicago, is there still a reason for LGBTs to gather and celebrate? I believe Pride Month is still important, but it is not the same for all LGBTs. Some are still not ready to openly celebrate in front of the cameras, while others consider themselves “post-gay,” in that their lives no longer revolve around just gay traditions. But the parade and other events are still critical parts of the Chicago community because they are there when people need them.
Compare Chicago to, for example, Tennessee, where the governor signed a bill banning local governments from implementing laws against anti-gay discrimination and where politicians also want to ban teachers from discussing gays prior to the ninth grade. Citizens in California voted against their neighbors on same-sex marriage, and voters in Iowa ousted judges who affirmed such unions. There are still hate-crimes against LGBTs (even in Chicago), employment bias, and elected officials who raise money off anti-gay bigotry.
Thus we know that the progress on LGBT issues locally and nationally is not permanent or ubiquitous. That means the job is not done and there is much work ahead. So every once in awhile we need to “let our hair down,” or put on some rainbow-colored wigs, and celebrate “Pride” in whatever way we can.
Tracy Baim is publisher and co-founder of Windy City Times newspaper. She is the author of Obama and the Gays: A Political Marriage and Leatherman: The Legend of Chuck Renslow. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org