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Chicago’s 50th Pride Parade hits the streets — until the storm rolls in

Amid the downpour, Chicago police had postponed the festivities. They were officially canceled by 3 p.m.

The Balloons By Tommy float in the 2019 Chicago Pride Parade | Rick Majewski/For the Sun-Times.
The Balloons By Tommy float in the 2019 Chicago Pride Parade.
Rick Majewski | For the Sun-Times
The Balloons By Tommy float in the 2019 Chicago Pride Parade.
Rick Majewski | For the Sun-Times

No amount of rain could cloud Chicago’s 50th annual Pride Parade on Sunday.

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots, Sunday drew participants and attendees from Chicago and beyond to celebrate love in its most pure sense.

Adam Mearse, 43, attended the parade with a simple agenda: offering free hugs.

Mearse, as a member of the LGBTQ advocacy group Free Dad Hugs, hoped to “offer love to anyone who’s been abandoned by family.”

“I’m just celebrating people and trying to love them,” Mearse said, adding that he hoped to have hugged 500 people by the end of the day.

Andy Weitzberg, 71, shared the same hopes of spreading love.

A recent retiree, Weitzberg calls herself the “Photobombing Grandma” — she befriends strangers by “photobombing” their photos.

Weitzberg had two hopes from the parade: first, to go viral and be invited to “Ellen,” but second, to make new friends and share her joy.

“I don’t even know them,” Weitzberg said as she waved to a passing group of parade attendees who had complimented her sign. “But this is good, fun, and it’s spreading love.”

Spectators watch the 2019 Chicago Pride Parade.
Rick Majewski | For the Sun-Times

For some, the parade was not only a moment for spreading love, but also being themselves.

Anastasia Rogers, 27, is intersex — and the warm and celebratory spirit of the parade has helped her embrace that.

“I haven’t been as open about being intersex. The first year I [participated in the parade], I was really shy,” Rogers, who celebrates her second parade this year, said. “But everyone’s very welcoming and proud of who they are.”

Ladimir Geake, 29, and Marc Szulc-Cieplicki, 28, were dressed up in drag to walk the parade — and were both nothing short of “excited” and “proud” to be a part of it.

What the parade signals, said Geake, is acceptance.

“It’s important to have acceptance from not just families, but society too,” Geake said. What Stonewall showed was that “people can change things, but [we] still need to go further.”

What’s also special about the parade is that it has a place for everyone.

“People need to know there’s always someone who can be in their corner,” said Szulc-Cieplicki.

A member of the Chicago Pride Guard float joins the 2019 Chicago Pride Parade.
Rick Majewski | For the Sun-Times

With parade floats ranging from massive corporations like Bank of America to niche interests like the kink and bondage community, there certainly was a “corner” for everyone.

Families, too, found fun. Jay Corsi, 42, has brought his daughters out for the parade every year for the past eight years.

“It’s the best parade in the city,” Corsi said.

It helps that his daughters, Adela, 9, and Simone, 7, get “a lot of loot” — the candy, necklaces and other assorted goods that those in the parade hand out to the crowds.

Windy and rainy Chicago weather truly kicked in around 2 p.m. Concerns about lightning caused police to wrap up the parade early.

According to the Pride Parade’s main coordinator, Richard Pfeiffer, this was the first time that the parade has been cut short due to weather in his 45 years of organizing the event.

The PNC Bank float joined the 2019 Chicago Pride Parade just before a storm rolled in.
Rick Majewski | For the Sun-Times

But absolutely no downpour could stop the pride spirit.

Nico Kouknas, 27, flew in from Pittsburgh to see Chicago’s pride, and even with the rain, was not disappointed.

“It doesn’t diminish everyone’s excitement for pride,” Kouknas said. “It didn’t deter anyone.”

Diane Berrios, 45, was especially undeterred. Having danced in the parade for “over 15 years,” and having just come out as pansexual, Berrios didn’t think the rain put a damper on anything.

“This has been the height of positivity,” Berrios said, covering herself from the rain with her costume. “There’s still parties going on.”

“Rain or shine, pride will always happen.”

Parade workers hand items out to the crowd at Chicago’s Pride Parade on Sunday.
Parade workers hand items out to the crowd at Chicago’s Pride Parade on Sunday.
Annie Geng/Sun-Times
The Chicago Cubs float in Sunday’s Pride Parade.
The Chicago Cubs float in Sunday’s Pride Parade. | Annie Geng/Sun-Times
Annie Geng/Sun-Times
Onlookers line the route of Sunday’s Pride Parade
Onlookers line the route of Sunday’s Pride Parade, the 50th held in Chicago.
Annie Geng/Sun-Times