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Largest Crowd Ever Expected for this year’s 40th annual Gay Pride Parade

June 26, 2009 – A record-high 500,000 participants and spectators are expected June 28 in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood  for the 40th annual Gay Pride Parade.  With the increase in attendence, parade coordinator Richard Pfeiffer said barricades would line the entire 18-block route for the first time. Previously, the city donated barricades for just three or four blocks, Pfeiffer said.

The increase is a security precaution to limit any potential injuries.

“Out of the entire history of the parade, we’ve only had three injuries, and want to keep it that way,” Pfeiffer said.

The barricades should help the parade move smoothly and prevent people from interfering, said Jim Ludwig, president of the Triangle Neighborhood Association. The parade lasts three hours, but streets are blocked for up to nine hours so crews can set up floats and clean debris afterwards.

Pfeiffer notes that having streets closed that long does increase in traffic congestion, but he said  it’s less inconvenient than other festivals that call for streets to be blocked off for one or two days.

Pfeiffer said parade organizers have an agreement with the city to allow a maximum of 250 groups to participate; that keeps the parade under three hours. The participants include local groups, businesses and elected officials – and, for the first time, a group of students and parents from east Lakeview Nettelhorst Elementary School.

Both Ludwig and Pfeiffer emphasized that cooperation with police is key in keeping the parade under control. Ludwig said parade organizers expect protesters. Each year, a separate area away  from the parade route is set up for protesters to gather. The location changes each year; this year, it will be held at the corner of Diversey and Pine Grove, Pfeiffer said. He said the protesters are mostly Christians and fundamentalists.

Ed Jarka, the media director of the ACLU of Illinois LGBT and AIDS Project, said he welcomed protesters because they were exercising the same free speech rights as parade participants. He said their presence promoted dialog between the opponents of homosexuality and gay rights advocates.

“If people there want to suggest discrimination as a good policy, it will lead to a great debate of ideas,” he said.

Pfeiffer said the parade is held in Lakeview because of its high percentage of gay residents, and their contribution to the community. The parade has been held in Lakeview for all but one of its 40-year history, according to Pfeiffer. The first parade was a sidewalk march just south of Old Town near Washington Square Park.

“We want to keep it in that neighborhood to commemorate their work,” Pfeiffer said. Ludwig added, “Any events stir up inconvenience in a neighborhood, but we expect that and it’s why we live there. It’s what makes it vibrant and lively.”

While the increase in foot traffic along the parade route typically boosts sales for restaurants and bars along the strip, it also can deter shoppers who do not wish to participate in the festivities. That’s why the event is held on Sunday, Pfeiffer said. Businesses that might lose profits due to the event such as laundromats, are closed that day. Danny Kopelson, director of communications for the Center on Halsted, said some restaurants that shut down generate revenue during the parade by offering refreshments on the street. The center itself is closed for regular operation as well, but is open to seniors and people with disabilities who would like to watch the parade at a safe distance, he said.

The parade this year will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion in New York, during which gay activists fought against a police raid.

“It’s important to recognize that event, because it’s the first time a gay issue was covered by the national media,” Kopelson said.

It inspired people to organize and support advocacy groups nationwide. In recognition of that watershed event, Pfeiffer said three generations of the gay community will lead the procession. The Grand Marshall will be Alexandra Billings, a trangender woman and Chicago native who is also an actor, teacher and activist.

He also expects the event to be more politicized this year due to the same-sex marriage bans both approved and repealed. It is now legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. California has upheld the state constitutional amendment Proposition 8, which eliminates the right of same-sex couples to marry.

The parade route starts at noon at Halsted and Belmont, proceeds north on Halsted, then south on Broadway to Diversey, and ends at Cannon Drive, in Lincoln Park.

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