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John Amaechi: On a 'Grand' Scale
by Ross Forman

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John Amaechi was invited to serve as the grand marshal for eight Gay Pride parades this year, and accepted three offers: from Los Angeles, Utah and Chicago.

But no one informed the former National Basketball Association ( NBA ) player how big the Chicago parade is.

'Oh my God, I didn't realize there would be that many people,' Amaechi said when he was told that the Chicago Gay Pride Parade ( June 24 ) will attract more than 400,000 viewers and participants from across the LGBT community.

'I wasn't sure I was Grand Marshal material; I don't know if I'm quite 'fun enough or exuberant enough,' but I definitely am honored by the request,' Amaechi said. 'It's something I'm really looking forward to.'

The Los Angeles parade was June 10, while Utah's version, held in Amaechi's old basketball stomping grounds of Salt Lake City, was June 3.

Richard Pfeiffer, organizer for the Chicago parade, sent Amaechi an e-mail invitation to serve as the Grand Marshal immediately after he came out in February, mostly because Amaechi was so visible in the media after coming out.

'Frankly, I didn't think we'd get him. I thought he'd go [ to parades ] in New York or Los Angles, but just thought we'd give it a shot,' Pfeiffer said.

In mid-March, Amaechi confirmed he would participate in Chicago, 'and I was speechless,' Pfeiffer said.

'John is not as well-known worldwide as [ 2006's Grand Marshal ] George Takei, but he certainly is well-known in his own right and also very timely. 'We're thrilled to have John as the grand marshal. We feel he's a great role model.'

The problem is that Amaechi doesn't know much about Chicago, even though he played against the Bulls for years.

'To be honest, I've never really spent a lot of time in Chicago. I've never been to Boystown; I've never hung out there. In fact, I think it's ridiculous that I've lived in this country this long, been almost everywhere, yet never explored Chicago or Boystown. So it's actually like a strange city for me,' Amaechi said. 'Chicago is going to be a totally new experience for me, and it's going to be terrifying now that I know there will be 400,000 [ attendees ] .'

Amaechi said he was slow to respond to the Chicago organizers' invitation because 'I just don't know what to expect.' He's been to a Pride Parade in England, but never in the United States.

'I guess I need to perfect my royal wave,' he said, laughing. 'It's exciting, but a complete unknown to me. I'm hoping I just going to get caught up in the moment, and hopefully not embarrass myself.'

Windy City Times got Amaechi's thoughts about a variety of other topics:

On the massacre at Virginia Tech:

'My first reaction was, I was horrified. I called several people that day to turn on the television, if they hadn't already. We all watched aghast as we saw the number of people who had [ died ] , especially as that number kept rising and we heard the details of [ the day ] .'

On former Penn State University women's basketball coach Rene Portland who resigned in late March amid allegations that she may have discriminated against lesbian players:

'People like her are incongruent with institutions of higher learning; these are places that are supposed to be bastions of creativity, inclusion and progress. And they shouldn't be held back by people like her.

'It was absolutely appropriate [ that she resigned ] . It's been a long time coming.'

Amaechi, who attended Penn State, returned to the State College, Pa., campus recently for the Distinguished Speakers Program, which brings people from all walks of life to PSU to address students.

'It was amazing. I was really pleased that my first official speech at a college was at Penn State. I was honored.'

On Don Imus:

'I don't know a lot about Don Imus, but, from what I've heard, [ the Rutgers-related statement ] was just the culmination of many, many inappropriate comments from him.'

On his life since revealing he is gay:

'The biggest surprise is that I completely underestimated America. I underestimated college students. I underestimated businessman, Black people, white people, men, women [ and ] the straight community. I thought when I came out that it would be the end of most of my friendships.

I thought I would face a torrent of fire, that people would be picketing outside my hotel rooms. But the fact is, although I've had some pretty wild and negative comments, they have been so drowned out by the majority of the comments,' which have been positive.

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