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Safety concerns come before Pride in Chicago

Since 2019, Chicago hasn’t had a full-fledged Pride celebration as the pandemic put the city’s massive parade and other festivities on hold that draw hundreds of thousands of people to the North Side.

But with the return of the 2022 version, the event brings new concerns, namely safety fears surrounding anti-LGBTQ sentiment and having such a large crowd in a city that has recently struggled to ensure the safety of large gatherings.

After 31 Patriot Front members were arrested near an Idaho gay pride event on June 11, concerns have spread across the country ahead of more celebrations this month. Those concerns resonated with some Chicago officials, while many members of the LGBTQ community said they choose to focus on the joy the festivities bring and their ability to voice concerns about threats to the right to same-sex marriage, highlighted in Friday’s history. United States Supreme Court ruling that gave states the ability to ban abortion.

At a June 13 news conference, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said officers had bolstered intelligence and had various plans to protect the Pride Parade and other festivities.

“We’re going to be vigilant to make sure this event, and others, go ahead safely,” Brown said. “And we will hold you accountable if you plan, if you do anything to compromise the safety of others.”

Many said they didn’t let worry creep in. Gary Chichester, who is being honored as a Legacy Grand Marshal in this year’s parade, expressed his wariness about giving in to extreme concern. Chichester’s name was on Chicago Pride’s first parade permit in 1971, and he is a member emeritus of the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors.

“We can fight the bullshit that’s out there and the hate that’s raining down on the LGBTQ+ community,” Chichester said. “But we cannot let fear take over our minds. That’s when we start to back off.

It is unclear whether the High Court’s decision could further increase crowds as the event takes on more of a protest flavor. In a concurring opinion on Friday, Judge Clarence Thomas wrote that the same principle applied to the abortion decision could apply to other cases such as the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which gave same-sex couples the right protected from getting married.

“While we have accomplished more than many cities, many forces are at play in trying to undo those achievements locally and in many other cities and states, as well as nationally in our country,” said Mark Liberson, owner of Hydrate Nightclub, Elixir Lounge and Replay Beer & Bourbon, and chairman of the Pride Fest committee before the decision was made.

“If you look at the conservative Supreme Court that we have now, my marriage, for example, is secured by the same reasoning as Roe v. Wade,” he said. “We are concerned that many of the rights we currently enjoy are at risk.”

People visiting Pride noted the change in tenor of the event on Friday. Jae Moyer, who was in town from Overland Park, Kansas, for Pride with friends read the ruling after breakfast downtown. “I had a panic attack. I tried not to cry as I walked down the street,” Moyer said.

Concerns about a very large crowd began to grow this week when Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, sent a letter to Brown on Tuesday asking for a greater police presence during Pride weekend in Lakeview.

Tunney said he expected the parade to be the largest in Chicago history after the three-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

“I am deeply concerned that the current staffing plans for the Pride Parade, as described to me, are insufficient for the crowd sizes the city should reasonably anticipate,” wrote Tunney.

He said he was “very disturbed” by a big fight that broke out in Lakeview after Pride Fest around 3 a.m. on Monday and he “doesn’t want it to happen again.”

Northalsted, formerly known as Boystown, is lined with bars and nightclubs, and fights broke out as people spilled onto the streets.

When asked to respond to Tunney’s letter at an independent press conference Wednesday, Brown said the department added more staff for this year’s parade and had more coordination with businesses and stakeholders in the planning process than in previous years.

“We have no threat to the Chicago Pride Parade, but obviously we’re planning for the worst, hoping for the best,” Brown said.

Amin Jessani, 19th District Commander, told an earlier press conference that the CPD had held meetings with local partners, business owners and the Alderman over the past few months to ensure that they were all on the same page when it came to safety.

“We will have additional resources along the route and afterwards for any festivities that take place,” Jessani said.

Yet despite the optimism of Brown and other police chiefs for the event, the police department has come under fire from experts and the city’s inspector general for its handling of large crowds in recent years. The department appeared notoriously uncoordinated during large protests and then overnight riots downtown in the summer of 2020 following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

More recently, police have struggled to control large gatherings of teenagers this year which erupted in violence and even led to the shooting death of a 16-year-old Seandell Holliday next to The Bean in May. The shooting prompted the city to ban unaccompanied minors from visiting Millennium Park after 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

At least one LGBTQ rights rally was also threatened this year in March after megaphone-wielding counter-protesters became ‘aggressive’ shouting and pushing through the crowd, and rally organizers cut the event short. , claiming they had security concerns. The group met again in April at the Federal Plaza.

Chicago Pride Parade event producer Tim Frye said the parade had had extra security for “a while” since the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016.

“I’m a little disturbed by this whole Idaho talk,” Frye said. “I know of course it’s important, but at the same time it generates a kind of fear and I find it a bit disturbing.” He added that the parade has always been a joyous occasion.

Liberson, the chairman of the committee, said they normally employed extra security inside and outside his bars in Northalsted over the weekend due to the large number of people in the area.

Other companies also hire additional security. But for Liberson, this safety measure is no different than it has been during Pride in previous years.

“We recognize that the police are understaffed, but hope they will bring a significant presence to help ensure a safe and orderly weekend and parade that can be enjoyed by the millions of people who travel to participate,” he said. he declared.

The good news, he said, is that for the most part the problems are limited since most people are in good spirits and having fun.

Myles Brady Davis, spokesperson for Equality Illinois, said the risks facing the LGBTQ community extend beyond Pride celebrations to their daily lives.

“The threat of violence is something LGBTQ people face on a daily basis,” Brady Davis said. “Now that people are more aware of these harmful militias, people are hypersensitive and more careful.”

Nonetheless, said Brady Davis, the community chooses to focus on the joy that Pride celebrations bring, before anything else.

“We always look at the face of hope instead of the face of fear,” he added. “And the one thing about us coming together to celebrate is that despite all the hate, despite all the trauma we might be going through, there’s still a lot of joy that needs to be celebrated.”

Kinsey Crowley of the Chicago Tribune contributed.

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