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PASSAGES Pride Parade organizer Richard Pfeiffer passes away
by Matt Simonette
2019-10-06

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Richard Pfeiffer's entry on the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame—into which he was inducted in 1993—notes that Pfeiffer's "name is synonymous with The Gay and Lesbian Pride Week Committee, and its sponsorship of the annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade."

The organizational names may have evolved since Pfeiffer's entry was written, but the sentiment has not—Pfeiffer will long be remembered for his work coordinating the Chicago Pride Parade, which he did up through 2019. Pfeiffer passed away the morning of Oct. 6, according to his husband, Tim Frye.

"Chicago and our LGBT community lost a champion," wrote Ald. Tom Tunney (44th Ward) on Facebook on Oct. 7. "Rich Pfeiffer dedicated his life to LGBT activism and service. The decades he gave organizing the Chicago Pride Parade helped make it one of the nation's most popular celebrations of diversity and acceptance. We owe a lot to Rich and will forever honor the legacy he leaves behind. My thoughts are with his husband Tim Frye and his family."

Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward) told Windy City Times in a statement, "For many of us, one of the highlights of our coming out experience was participating in the Pride Parade, which existed for all of us because of Richard Pfeiffer's leadership. Although this event grew to be one of the largest LGBTQ Pride events in the country, Richard was a humble man that wasn't looking to be in the spotlight. I will always remember how extraordinarily detail oriented he was. His skill and passion for our rights drove him to make sure that throughout the years the Chicago LGBTQ Pride parade was a time and place where all people from around the world, but particularly the Midwest, could feel welcome and supported."

"Richard was an advocate for LGBTQ people. Through his hard work and focused efforts, he raised the visibility of our communities here in Chicago and was a catalyst for change. He taught us to celebrate our communities in all its diversity" said Chicago House & Social Services Agency CEO Michael Herman in a separate statement.

Pfeiffer, who was 70, told Windy City Times in 2018 that each spring he'd begin anew with his principal annual duties coordinating the parade. As the last Sunday of each June drew near, he'd usually be dedicating about 40 hours a week to his efforts. He began working on the parade in the early '70s.

Under Pfeiffer's watch, the event changed dramatically. Organizers and stakeholders in the LGBT community constantly grappled with the identity of the parade, trying to both pay tribute to its organizing grassroots protests while including mainstream voices whose participation often signified socio-political advancements in the community.

"In the first years, there were a lot of people who didn't have anything to lose," Pfeiffer recalled. "You didn't get the teachers, doctors and lawyers. It was students and others. But as the world changed, the LGBT community came out more and more."

In a 2007 interview on the Chicago Gay History website, Pfeiffer recalled growing up in his cloistered Chicago neighborhood, which he said was comparable to growing up in a small town. He also recalled how the initial 1970 Pride "march" had become a full-fledged "parade" by 1971.

"We're not just a 'community'—I say this all the time," he said. "We're just so many different communities that you had to reach all different people in all different ways. So the second year, we became a parade, and had political and social (groups), and bars, and people on the left, and people on the right."

The size of the event quadrupled in 1971, he said, noting that a number of benchmarks denoted the growth of the event in subsequent years. (Frye will take the reins of the parade, at least, in 2020.)

"In 1977, Anita Bryant had her campaign to try to repeal an ordinance in Miami," said Pfeiffer. "That kind of reverberated throughout the country. … Even in cities where ordinances had been passed, that could happen [anywhere]. Also that same year, in June, Anita Bryant was here in Chicago at Medinah Temple, and a number of us were staging a march protesting her. … There was a feeling, 'You've got to stop this.' It brought out a lot of people. We received more GLBT groups [in the parade] that year. In fact, a lot of non-GLBT organizations that year, as well, supported the GLBT community."

He added that 1982 was another year of significant growth, when anti-LGBT neo-Nazis announced they'd be protesting the event.

"We didn't have the internet yet, but [the news] hit gay media," Pfeiffer recalled. "We were beginning to get phone calls from Paris. We had contingents in 1982 from people from Paris and Berlin, people who were very anti-Nazi. … I think the parade doubled in size that year."

For the last several years, city officials estimated that about a million persons came out to view the parade. Pfeiffer juggled numerous factors so the event would be an appropriate but manageable scale and scope.

The Chicago Gay History website noted several other instances of Pfeiffer's community involvement throughout the '70s and '80s, including the Chicago Gay Alliance; Gay Horizons (now Center on Halsted); Gay Speakers Bureau; campus gay groups at Harold Washington College and the University of Illinois Chicago; and a gay couples networking group. Pfeiffer also wrote for Chicago Gay Crusader and GayLife newspapers at that time.

In the '80s and '90s, he was a member of Mayor's Advisory Council on GLBT Issues, serving under three different mayors. His primary job had been as a real estate professional.

When the day of the parade finally came each year, Pfeiffer said in 2018, it felt like a family reunion: "I see so many people there that I don't see the rest of the year."

Visitation will be at Drake & Son - 5303 North Western Ave., Chicago, IL 60625 on Saturday, Oct. 12,, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Services will be Sunday, Oct. 13 at 1 p.m.

View video interviews with Richard Pfeiffer at chicagogayhistory.org/biography.html and chicagogayhistory.org/biography.html .


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