From The Archives: Remembering Chicago's first pride march (1970)

Two Sun-Times writers, Curtis Lawrence in 2004 and Jim Ritter in 2005, took a look at the very first event in 1970 that would eventually become known as the Chicago Pride Parade.

Just 150 people attended the march that ended at what is now known as Daley Plaza. The march came a year after the violent Stonewall Riots, when patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York fought back against a police raid.

Full Pride Parade 2014 Coverage

From The Archives

Daley is first mayor to lead gays’ parade (1989)

Chicago gays put clout on parade (1990)

March of time alters gay parade (1991)

‘Lift the Ban’ Is Gay March’s Cry (1993)

Gay-Lesbian Parade Marks 25 Years of Gains (1994)

150 marchers set the pace

By Curtis Lawrence

Originally published June 27, 2004

Thirty-four years and “a different world” ago, about 150 gay men and lesbians gathered at Bughouse Square on North Clark and started marching toward what is now Daley Center Plaza.

It was the first anniversary of New York’s Stonewall Riots, where patrons at a gay bar stood up to police harassment and raids.

Now it was Chicago’s turn, and gays here flexed their muscle, albeit in a more subdued and orderly way than the New Yorkers. The group, ranging from late teens through 60-year-olds, made their way down the sidewalks with about half a dozen cops looking on.

“It was overdue, and it fit right in with the tenor of the times,” said Albert Williams, a music professor at Columbia College and theater critic for the Chicago Reader.

“We ended up with a speech and did a circle dance around the Picasso, which I always thought Pablo would have liked,” said Williams, who was 19 at the time.

That same day, a 21-year-old kid named Richard Pfeiffer was watching.

“I was on the sidelines — one of those people with their collar up, kind of hoping that no one saw me,” said Pfeiffer, who soon after became involved in organizing the parade and is now the coordinator.

“It was a whole different world then,” said Pfeiffer, a little amazement still lingering in his voice. “In a sense it was empowering because of all these people willing to come out in an era when it was not a cool thing to do. And it just energized me. It made me feel better about myself.”

After just one year, the march grew into a parade. It also moved to its present home in Lake View, along Halsted and Broadway in the area commonly known as Boys Town.

In the second year of the parade, Pfeiffer was no longer on the sidelines. He remembers marchers calling out to friends on the sidelines to “come on in, the water’s fine.”

“I didn’t do that because my feeling has always been that you really shouldn’t out people. If someone had done that to me in the 1970 march, I would have left.”

Since 1970, the parade has grown to attract about 350,000 people and 200 parade entries.

“And it’s important to note that the parade has grown . . . not only because more gay people are willing to march, but also because it’s attracted a huge audience of straight people — some sympathetic, some just curious,” Williams said. “You don’t have to be Irish to enjoy the St. Patrick’s Day parade.”

150 marchers set the pace

By Jim Ritter

Originally published June 27, 2005

When he marched in the first gay and lesbian Pride Parade, Gary Chichester carried a homemade silkscreen flag.

The flag displayed two interlocking male symbols, two interlocking female symbols and a militant clenched fist.

“People wanted change,” Chichester said. “And the only way to stand up and get noticed was to be angry.”

Since that first Pride Parade, when Chichester joined a few hundred other activists in a sidewalk march, things have changed more than Chichester ever imagined.

The Pride Parade, now in its 36th year, has become one of Chicago’s largest parades, attracting 250 floats and several hundred thousand spectators and participants on the North Side. There’s a big corporate presence, too, including Jewel, SBC and LaSalle Bank.

Chichester, who has been in all but two of the Chicago Pride Parades, is gratified that gays and lesbians have become more accepted. “To see the progress the community has made is incredible,” he said.

Still, Chichester, 58, gets nostalgic about the parade’s early days.

“Sometimes it was good to be naughty and underground,” he said. “Now that we’re aboveground, maybe it’s not as much fun.”

Chichester rode in the Hall of Fame float. (He was inducted in 1992 for his years of activism.) As he always does, he brought along his old flag. It’s frayed on the outer edge, but otherwise in good shape.

“It’s a little battered. So am I,” Chichester said. “But we’re still here.”

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