Departing from Chicago's Uptown neighborhood for the first time in its 43-year history, the Annual Pride Parade kicked off Sunday with record-breaking crowds and sunny skies.
Energy was high and crowds were thick, but with this year's route adding five blocks to the parade, the event appeared to relieve the overcrowding that trapped onlookers between fences and barricades last year.
An estimated 850,000 packed into the new route that stretched from Uptown and extended through Lakeview along Halsted and back to Broadway to Diversey.
The parade started on time at noon at the corner of Montrose and Broadway, where crowds packed behind and in front of the barricades.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel headed up the parade with Grand Marshal Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn following close behind. Emanuel shook hands along the route before the parade started.
Also marching was Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Cook County Clerk David Orr, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley and Jan Schakowsky, State Sen. John Cullerton, openly gay state Reps. Deb Mell, Kelly Cassidy and Greg Harris, Rep. Ann Williams, Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, lesbian Metropolitan Water District Commissioner Debra Shore, LGBT judges, gay Ald. Tom Tunney and Alds. Michele Smith, Danny Solis and Joe Moore.
Dozens of Obama supporters enthusiastically carried the president's campaign signs, eliciting thunderous cheers from the crowd.
Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy rode in the parade in a car driven by Officer Lori Cooper, and many officers in the Gay Officers Action LEAGUE, or GOAL, were behind him in a float.
While dozens of elected officials walked parade, this year's focus appeared to be on LGBT youth, who marched in large numbers with local schools and universities.
There were also dozens of floats and contingents sponsored by major corporations, plus floats for bars, non-profit groups, sports organizations, performance groups and more. This year the parade cut off the number at 200 contingents, down from 250 last year, and the last one stepped off from Montrose around 2:30 p.m. Several groups consolidated their entries this year.
Favorite entries this year included the Dykes on Bikes who celebrated their first year as an official chapter, Lakeside Pride Freedom Band, Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps, Chicago Spirit Brigade, Windy City Cowboys and Club Escape dancers.
A contingent of marchers dressed in rainbow balloon displays by Chicago-based company Balloons by Tommy dazzled onlookers.
Sidetrack sported a giant octopus and seahorses this year that took up two entire floats.
American Veterans for Equal Rights carried a massive American flag down the route, headed up by a full color guard. GLASS, the gay association from Great Lakes Naval Base, also had contingent, as did OutServe.
Other notable participants included Benny the Bull, who danced atop a Chicago Bulls bus in a rainbow cape and Bozo the Clown who headed up the WGN float.
Several faiths were represented this year including Mormons, Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, Jewish, and Buddhists. The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago had strong participation, too. Most significantly, the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches led a contingent of hundreds, intended to provide an LGBT-affirming faith presence in the parade after Chicago's Catholic Cardinal Francis George compared the parade to a Ku Klux Klan gathering last year.
Belmont and Halsted, a trouble spot during last year's parade remained relatively calm despite large crowds. The police presence was apparent as well as medical emergency vehicles parked on Broadway just south of where the parade turned east.
The flow of pedestrians both to and from the parade was heavy all afternoon.
The heaviest amount of pedestrian traffic came from the Belmont Red and Brown Line stop. The CTA security guards directed pedestrians out of the train station, and as people began to leave, both exits and entrances were used to let people into the train station. One Red Line rider explained that it was pretty easy and not terribly crowded, "[getting off the train] wasn't like a Sox game where you almost fall off the platform."
At Belmont and Clark, 12 police officers guarded six anti-gay protestors who were barricaded in against a building. Parade-goers heckled the protesters in usual fashion. There were also anti-gay protesters at Diversey, by the end of the route.
Rich Pfeiffer, parade coordinator, said that officials tallied the crowd at 850,000, toppling last year's record turnout, which was estimated between 750,000 to 800,000.
But despite the crowds, the parade concluded without immediate reports of major problems, a marked difference from last year's parade, which overwhelmed police and parade marshals. Organizers had hoped that the new route, which added five blocks and removed a turn that trapped crowds at Halsted and Broadway, would ease problems.
Pfeiffer said that overall, he had not received reports of any major problems or arrests.
"On the whole, most of the feedback that we have gotten has been positive," he said. "Those five [additional] blocks made a difference."
Police News Affairs Officer John Mirabelli could not confirm if any arrests had been made. A spokesperson for the Office of Emergency Management and Communications said that no major incidents had been reported. According to Pfeiffer, 35 attendees suffered "heat-related" issues.
"It's a relief to have it work out so well," said Pfeiffer.
Pfeiffer said that he believes the new route will allow for greater numbers in future years, as the parade continues to attract more people every summer.
Sidetrack, with its sea themed-float, took home the prize for Best All-around Float this year. Balloons by Tommy and Steve Quick Jewelers tied for Best Business Entry. Best Organization went to Gay, Lesbian and Supporting Sailors and Redmoon Theater. Hamburger Mary's/ Wigs on Wheels and the National Gay Pilots Association received special mentions.
Contributing: Tracy Baim, Elyssa Czynski
Follow the pink link below the image on this page for Windy City Times Pride 2012 photo gallery, plus:
Pride Parade photos by Kizzy Ramos and Dave Ouano at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/More-Windy-City-Times-Pride-2012-photos/38353.html.
Pride Parade photos by Tim Carroll at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Windy-City-Times-Pride-2012-photos-continued-/38354.html.
Pride Parade photos by Ed Negron at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Windy-City-Times-Pride-2012-photos-continued-/38404.html.
Dyke March photos at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Chicago-Dyke-March-held-in-Uptown/38348.html.
Back Lot Bash photos at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Back-Lot-Bash/38387.html.
Pride Fest photos at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Pride-Fest-lures-thousands/38386.html.
Montrose Rocks photos at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/PRIDE-2012-Montrose-Rocks/38390.html.
Pride North photos at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/PRIDE-2012-Pride-North/38391.html.
Proud to Run photos at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Proud-to-Run-breaks-participant-record/38368.html.