About three dozen people from my Naperville church joined several thousand people in the Aurora Pride Parade on Father’s Day, and it was a beautiful experience.
Old and young, people of all races and ethnicities, LGBTQ folks and cisgender heterosexuals, we marched with balloons and banners and signs and mostly smiles.
We also carried water bottles and misters because the heat index was over 100. But despite the heat, even the police officers in full uniform along the route were cheerful and helpful.
Not that we needed any help from police. Both the marchers and the crowd were upbeat, cheerful and appreciative. From what I read, the idea of Aurora holding the first Pride Parade in a Chicago suburb initially was met with controversy, but there was little evidence of that on parade day.
At the very beginning of the parade route I did hear shouting from a handful of people holding signs urging people to “repent,” but they stayed on the sidewalk, in their small group, and exercised their right to free speech without infringing on anyone else’s.
The rest of the crowd lining the streets was more than welcoming, as you might expect – who turns out to stand in that kind of heat unless they are truly committed to an issue? Most of the time, people applauded warmly as our group passed them, shouting out words of support or sometimes joining our “Love wins” chant.
Overall, the whole thing was quite festive. My group included a baby in her mother’s arms, young kids on scooters, teens and young, middle-aged and retirement-aged adults. We wore matching yellow T-shirts and pinned rainbow flags to our shoulders like capes. Many of us had painted faces, and a few wore multicolored tutus or ribbons or buttons.
It was fun to see the colors others were wearing, what their signs said and what group they were representing as we milled around the gathering spot or in the parking lots after it was over. (The bad thing about being in a parade is you don’t get to see the whole thing, but we got a good sense of it).
Organizers had asked that parade entries be family friendly, and they were. While Chicago’s parade has a reputation for its wild costumes (or sometimes the lack thereof), Aurora’s had more of a family feel typical of other parades in the suburbs.
I did see a couple of wilder outfits, but only a couple. It was a well-behaved group, and the messages were overwhelmingly positive and affirming.
It would be a mistake to assume that only members of the LGBTQ community were represented. Gov. Bruce Rauner marched, as did the Naperville Township Democrats. Several other Naperville groups were represented, including groups that work with LGBTQ youth.
We were told that 11 churches were represented, too, which surprised a lot of people who think of religious institutions uniformly as homophobic or unwelcoming or even condemning. I can’t speak for them all, but I know our church has redoubled its efforts in recent years to be welcoming of all people, and not to just think that but to say it out loud and live it.
An Aurora official estimated there were 3,000 parade participants and 5,000 spectators. He would know better than I, but we were a little disappointed that the crowd seemed sparse in some spots. But, taking into account that it was the parade’s first year, it was ridiculously hot, it was Father’s Day and the group planned the whole event in just a few months, I’d say that was a great start.
It actually made me proud to take part and hopeful for our future.
Last year, our group had no choice but the Chicago parade, and only a handful went to represent us. I stayed home for the same reasons a lot of others did – the hassle of figuring out public transportation to get down there, the crowds, the timing. I’m sure many would not want to take young children there because of its reputation for being a bit, um, colorful. And I figured it was too far from our church to really be effective at letting potential members know we’re here.
But having the parade in Aurora, and a little smaller and more manageable, erased those concerns and got me out in the sun at the hottest part of the day. The route was easily walkable at less than a mile – I walked farther before and after getting to my car.
Having experienced it, I now have to wonder why a vibrant community like Naperville doesn’t offer a Pride Parade. We clearly have an LGBTQ community, groups that are set up to serve that community, and a lot of people willing to travel to a nearby city to bake in the heat to show their support.
So what about it, Naperville? Why not express our pride and our diversity right here in our own city?
As our group’s organizer said, wouldn’t it be great if next year we had to choose which of the local parades to join?