I’ve often felt like a bit of a poser during Pride as a married cis-gender heterosexual woman. Pride is supposed to be a party, and while my heart has always been grateful for the party, I often felt like I was invading a space that didn’t represent me. But this year, I felt like I truly wanted to be present to let people I care for know that I truly do stand with them and want them to have their parties and their safe spaces and I want them to feel loved by all, and safe. Veronica mentioned that they were going, so I agreed to go with them. And then I realized they were marching, and we were welcome to march with them.
I was thrilled. I mean who doesn’t like marching in a parade, right? Especially when it is one of the biggest, prettiest parades the city offers up. So much color to see, so many amazing outfits, so much giddy joy. And this was exactly how I felt as we milled around waiting for instructions on what to do, how to march. One of the organizers told us where to get a poster to hold.
The goal was to begin the parade with a group of poeple carrying a poster for each person murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. 50 posters. 50 faces. 50 people dead. I was sad, but kept thinking to of how Pride is the largest party of the year in this area, and we would somehow turn this into a party. Even though we were marching to show respect for their lives, and show Chicago’s unity with Orlando, I was trying to stay focused on the celebration. Incidents like this shooting are why Pride parades exist, after all.
With a shout through a bullhorn and dance music blaring behind us, we formed rows and began a couple mile walk through several neighborhoods in Chicago that I knew would be full of faces, many that I hoped I knew. But I was surrounded by people who were joking and laughing and hugging and so very happy to be together, that I didn’t stop to think how seeing this as a spectator would be. Tens of thousands of people prepared for a party were faced with such visual proof of the murder of 50 people who had been partying in a safe space. A space not dissimilar from the Pride parade.
And as we walked, we all muttered to each other “I didn’t think about how hard it would be to see so many people cry.” And that’s what we saw. So many faces of people crying, people trying not to cry, people looking away so they wouldn’t cry. People who looked us in the eye and said “thank you”. People who hugged themselves and sobbed uncontrollably. I saw several people who I just wanted to hug. I grabbed the hand of a few sobbing strangers and squeezed them, because they were so eagerly reaching out to make a connection with a caring stranger. Grabbing the hand of a man who is crying and saying “thank you” and trying not to cry is hard, y’all.
It’s been 48 hours, and I’m still humbled and awed by the experience. There are a handful of memories that feel “very Chicago” to me, and this is now in that group. I walked for about 4 miles and saw every sidewalk we passed full of people, and in many places the sidewalks were packed deep. There were people on almost every balcony, hanging out of almost every window. I knew this was a well-attended parade, but I’d not realized how many people came out to see it, until I saw all of them. And there are so many faces that I won’t soon forget. These are some of them:
• A young girl of around 7 or 8, asking her mother “So he hurt all of these people? But there are so many of them!” As her mother cried and held her tight.
• Another young girl with a sign that said “I love my two dads.” While her fathers stood behind her, holding her, holding each other, and cried.
• The CTA bus driver in the cooling station taking pictures and blowing kisses to us.
• Two young police officers looking at the signs, reading the names and saying to each other “It’s just too many. Too many.”
• The older drag queen who openly wept without a care for her meticulously applied makeup.
• Two young, very young, women holding a sign that said “Just Engaged!!” while they held hands and cried.
• Two older women, one of whom had a cane, who held each other as one said “We should have done more to protect them.” Her partner replied with “What could we do?”
• The group of young Asian man glammed up and crying with no care about how this looked to strangers.
• So many people my age or older whose chins quivered, faces were wet with tears, who just raised their fists, or flashed a peace sign, or blew a kiss, and several who couldn’t look at any of us but cried nonetheless.
• So many young people who didn’t cry, but who just looked shocked, and a little scared.
The parade passed one of the largest dance clubs in Boys Town, the nightclub likely most similar to Pulse in Orlando, and the group of shirtless men dancing with glee just stopped when they saw us and grabbed hands with each other and others standing nearby.
So many faces. I spent the parade fighting back tears. But I wanted to look as many people in the eye as I could. I wanted to see them. I wanted to see their pain, and their anger, and their hope. I wanted them to see a stranger looking at them and seeing them, seeing how they felt. I wanted everyone I passed to know they were surrounded by people who felt the same way.
And it was overwhelming. It was physically exhausting to walk from Uptown through Lakeview to Lincoln Park, some of it spent holding a very large sign made heavier by the cooling breeze off the lake. But it was more emotionally exhausting to be a part of the largest memorial I’ve ever seen.
I was doing well through the parade. Tearing up a little, but not really crying until the end. We rounded the final corner and heard Purple Rain blaring out of a speaker. And I looked to my right and saw a dozen people, who didn’t seem to be together, crying. Ugly crying. It was too much. I lost it and looked at Tony who quickly looked away from me so he wouldn’t cry.
We all wore t-shirts that said #weareOrlando. And for an hour on Sunday, I truly felt like we can hold each other and get through this pain and make our world safe for everyone. No matter who we love. I’ve looked in hundreds of sad eyes and I need hope to prevail. I need to hope that the Pride parade returns to being one of every city’s largest parties.
And my wonderful husband created a time-lapse video of his view of the crowd during the parade.
Commenting is closed for this article.