For nearly 20 years, Peter Thaddeus would go to a room tucked away on the third story of a Chicago-area church, where for a brief time, he could finally be himself.
Now, roughly two decades later, Thaddeus is prepared to walk in the first-ever pride parade for his suburban hometown – a public display he never imagined he’d be a part of.
For so long, Thaddeus was only able to be his true self inside those small walls at Aurora’s New England Congressional Church. The small room was a sanctuary for many like Thaddeus, who was afraid to tell his family, classmates or even many of his friends, that he was gay.
“Before that, I had two people that I knew who were gay,” he said. “But to be in a group of people, not just to hear their experiences, not just gay people but lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, people who I thought had amazing stories and they were able to come out .... If they could do it, I could do it.”
Rev. Gary McCann was one of few who knew about the room. Knowledge of it was kept secret, even from some members of the congregation.
It was intended to be a safe space for those not accepted outside of the room’s walls.
“We just told people this isn’t something to talk about because of the safety issue,” McCann said. Now, outside the four walls of that room, an entire group of people will parade down city streets with pride.
“I’ve already got some of my rainbow gear,” Thaddeus said.
Aurora’s first-ever pride parade will step off Sunday after the city approved an application for the event in February.
Some opposed the proposal but many supported the decision.
Today, the room that once housed so many secrets for many marching in the event this weekend acts as a classroom for students. And many walking Sunday hope there is lesson to be learned from their secrecy.
“Being visible is so important and to get out there and show our pride,” Thaddeus said. “Something about being in their own community is super important. It’s Aurora but it’s the surrounding suburbs too. It’s accessible and it’s a chance to be seen and be out and proud.”