From The Archives: Gay-Lesbian Parade Marks 25 Years of Gains (1994)

SHARE From The Archives: Gay-Lesbian Parade Marks 25 Years of Gains (1994)

By Jim Ritter

Originally published June 6, 1994

When Art Johnston opened a gay bar on the North Side 12 years ago, no politician would dare visit.

Now, Johnston said, “I can’t keep them out.”

In recent months, Mayor Daley, Cook County State’s Attorney Jack O’Malley and a gaggle of Chicago aldermen and state legislators have dropped by Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted, to court the gay vote.

“The gay community has been demystified,” Johnston said Sunday before the 25th annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade on the North Side.

Full Pride Parade 2014 Coverage

From The Archives

Remembering Chicago’s first pride march (1970)

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)

While still subject to discrimination, homosexuals have made enormous gains since the gay-rights movement was sparked in 1969 by a gay riot in New York over police harassment.

Chicago, Cook County and several suburbs and Downstate cities have passed laws making it illegal to discriminate against homosexuals.

Major corporations have extended benefits to partners of gay and lesbian employees and are marketing to gays. AT&T recently sent brochures to gay consumers, touting the company’s environment “in which gay, lesbian and bisexual people feel comfortable in the workplace.”

AT&T participated in Sunday’s parade, along with Commonwealth Edison, Budweiser, several radio and TV stations and other businesses.

“They realize we have economic clout,” said parade organizer Richard Pfeiffer.

Chicago’s first gay pride parade in 1970 attracted a few hundred participants. It has grown steadily each year, and organizers said that as many as 150,000 people marched or watched on Sunday.

Twenty-five years ago, one of the few places homosexuals could meet was in a gay or lesbian bar. Today, there are gay and lesbian social service agencies, church groups, motorcycle clubs, softball teams, Alcoholics Anonymous groups, the Windy City Gay Chorus and the Illinois Gay Rodeo Association.

But perhaps the most important achievement is the ever-increasing number of gays and lesbians who have come out of the closet.

Studies show that people tend to be more tolerant of homosexuals when they know people who are gay, said Rick Garcia of the Illinois Federation for Human Rights, a gay-rights group.

“They realize gay people aren’t these strange people with strange lifestyles,” Garcia said.

But gays and lesbians say they have a long way to go.

Many Christians consider homosexuality a sin. Heterosexuals who never would make racial slurs still snicker at homosexuals and tell anti-gay jokes. And homophobes still cruise Halsted Street looking for gays to beat up.

“There are an incredible number of hate crimes committed against gays and lesbians,” said Vernita Gray, a gay and lesbian specialist for the state’s attorney’s office.

Last year, a gay-rights law passed the Illinois House but stalled in the Senate. Advocates say they’ll try again next year.

In most areas outside Cook County, Garcia said, “It’s still perfectly legal to discriminate against a person because they are gay or lesbian.

“We have a whole stack (of letters) from people who have been discriminated against, mostly in employment. It ranges from harassment and intimidation to outright firing.”

Contributing: Adrienne Drell

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