Written by Seth Vermilyea, co-founder of United Pride and director of strategic alignment at United Way of Metro Chicago.
In New York City, in the early morning of June 28, 1969, a riot broke out at the Stonewall Inn. After yet another raid of the queer bar by police, patrons — including Martha P. Washington and Sylvia Rivera — fought back. They would no longer let a corrupt system demean and keep them from living their fullest lives.
The following year, a parade marked the riots and protested the continued mistreatment of gays, lesbians and individuals who were on their transgender journey.
On Sunday, marking the 50th anniversary of this event, Chicagoans far and wide celebrated Pride at the city’s annual parade. As advocates for stronger communities, United Pride — a United Way affinity group — and a few of our community and corporate partners came together to rally around our LGBTQ neighbors.
Though it literally rained on our parade and we were unable to walk, that didn’t matter to us. For just a few hours, we were all united around a common sense of pride for our successes as a queer community and hope for an equitable future.
Just before the rain came pouring down, our chosen rainbow family greeted one another, hugged and celebrated another year together.
We not only celebrated each other, but those who had long fought for us. We shared a mutual understanding that, as we boarded our float, we were standing on the shoulders of our queer elders who made this parade possible. We talked about Stonewall and the history of the Pride parade, and we discussed societal and political changes that queer people championed over the last 50 years — all because they had the courage to say “enough.”
While most of these memories are colored with joy, I’d be remiss to ignore that the Pride parade is not without flaw or threat to those it seeks to uplift.
The parade is also a reminder of the commercialization of this celebration for people who have long been marginalized by corporations and people in power. We applaud companies for committing themselves to diversity. However, we can’t forget the inequities that still exist within many workplaces and the queer people behind those logos who may not be in a place to share this part of themselves in such a public way.
Additionally, as we walk, a fear of violence or nonacceptance exists within us, too. LGBTQ people live in constant fear that someone will twist this time of celebration into the next Pulse massacre. We live in fear that we will be seen by someone who will not accept who we are or will harm us for simply being us.
But, despite those fears, we still walk.
Because when we do, we are changed. We create space to be ourselves. We are showered in more love than some of us have ever experienced in our lifetimes. We are united with our fellow queer and disenfranchised people, sometimes for the first time.
We also inspire change. Even though Pride Month has come to a close, we hope you’ll continue to lift up your LGBTQ neighbors and fight for equality. Because when you do, you help create a brighter — more colorful — world for all.