Chicago's annual Gay Pride parade got off to an uproarious start Sunday, as it traveled for the 43rd year through Lake View -- but this time, it took a new route.
Organizers, working with the city, decided to extend the path in the hopes of spreading out the huge crowds. More than 750,000 people were expected to descend on the area to take part in the revelry.
Gov. Pat Quinn led the march. Just before things got started, he talked to reporters about the importance of equality -- particularly when it comes to marriage.
"I think marriage equality is something we're going to get in Illinois," Quinn said. "It's going to maybe take a little while, but I think it's important to move forward."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel marched as well, shaking hands and calling it a "landmark year" for gay and lesbian rights, thanks to President Obama signing hate crimes legislation, repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and speaking out in favor of marriage equality.
For the first time, out, active-duty members of the military marched in the pride parade, with no fear of losing their jobs.
"It's a great opportunity and a great event to come out here and actually show who we are, being in the military and gay and out," said Richard Dumbrique, a member of Gay, Lesbian, and Supporting Sailors, or GLASS.
GLASS is an organization comprised of out gay and lesbian sailors and their allies at Great Lakes Naval Base. It was just founded in February, and chapters are already spreading across the country.
As for the logistics of the parade, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy was optimistic that stretching out the route would make it easier to keep things safe for everyone involved.
"When you come up with a scenario that makes more sense than the way you've been doing things, people say, 'Oh yeah!' And you question, why did we do things the other way? Because that's the way we always did it," McCarthy said.
McCarthy was on hand for Sunday's celebration, and even rode in the parade in a white convertable.
The parade's grand marshal was Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage equality nation-wide. He urged gays and lesbians in Illinois to talk to their friends and families about why equality matters to them. He said those kinds of conversations are what changed President Obama's mind about gay marriage.
"It was those conversations that opened his heart, and encouraged him to change his mind, to embrace the values of fairness that he and Michelle are trying to teach their daughters," Wolfson said. "It's those conversations that we know build support for the freedom to marry. And we need more of those conversations all across Illinois."
New Route Eases Congested Crowds
The festivities kicked off at noon at Broadway and Montrose, as opposed to last year’s start at Belmont and Halsted. It proceeded south on Broadway, then down Halsted to Belmont. It ran east on Belmont, back to Broadway, then south to Diversey. Then parade ended in the same spot it always has, where Diversey meets Cannon Drive.
The new route, 22 blocks longer than last year’s march, was meant to safely accommodate increased numbers of spectators and add more accessible train stations for attendees to reach the parade, according to a press release.
Selected intersections allowed parade watchers to cross streets and balance crowds along the route.
Last year, nearly 800,000 spectators crowded Chicago streets and that number is expected to grow at this year’s celebration.
To stave off the surge of heavy drinking associated with last year’s parade, police can now issue costly tickets to those consuming alcoholic beverages at the event.
The Chicago Transit Authority also provided longer trains on some 'L' lines and rerouted eight busses. Information regarding those changes can be found on the CTA's Web site.
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