The lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community from throughout the suburbs attended Aurora's inaugural Pride Parade Sunday afternoon.
It was only four months ago that the Aurora City Council voted unanimously to award a permit for the LGBT Pride Parade.
"Today signifies One Aurora," Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin said as he walked in the parade.
The parade stepped off at noon from Benton and River streets and traveled through downtown.
Many of the spectators celebrating their sexuality — accompanied by lots of friends and family — were decked out in colorful beads and leis, and waving Pride flags.
Some said they usually attend the Pride Parade in Chicago.
Clayton Muhammad, Aurora director of communications, said the "One Aurora" theme has been part of Irvin's administration since he first took office in April 2017.
"When we talk about the City of Lights, these rays of lights come in all colors, shapes and forms," Muhammad said.
Muhammad estimated there were some 5,000 parade attendees, along with some 3,000 that were actually in the parade.
A group of people arrive early to view the Aurora Pride Parade in Aurora, IL on Sunday, June 17, 2018 (Sean King/Beacon-News)
Original crowd estimates were reduced in large part due to temperatures in the mid-90s and a heat index in the triple digits, according to officials from Indivisible Aurora, organizers of the parade.
Those who were there said they came to show their gay pride in the suburbs regardless of the weather. Many said the first-ever Pride Parade in Aurora has them feeling hope.
A contingency of friends from Geneva, St. Charles and S. Elgin stood at the corner of Stolp Avenue and E. Benton Street.
"Clearly the city of Aurora embraces its diversity," St. Charles resident Kevin Skeesick said.
Skeesick had only praise for Irvin as a mayor he described as "inclusive" and "supportive" of the LGBT community.
"We have never seen this in the suburbs," said Skeesick, 44. “The parade is a sign that things are changing.
"It's been very slow in my lifetime, but acceptance is edging out into the suburbs," he said.
He's professional boxing's first openly gay athlete — and Chicago's honoring him at Pride, Puerto Rican parades »
Pride Fest in Mokena: A day to celebrate and educate »
Parade Grand Marshall Jim Corti holds up a sign during the Aurora Pride Parade in Aurora, IL on Sunday, June 17, 2018 (Sean King/Beacon-News)
The city of Aurora partnered with Indivisible Aurora, which approached the city about hosting a Pride Parade on Father's Day earlier this year.
Indivisible Aurora Executive Director Chuck Adams, who is an ally to the LGBT community, said it was organized as a family parade. The parade featured various groups, including 11 churches and synagogues.
"For individuals, the parade is a form of affirmation," Adams said.
Skeesick came with about 15 people, but he said the group would have been larger had it not been so hot.
"The hot weather did keep some of our friends away," he said.
About 85 people from the New England Congregational Church led by a 1929 Model T were near the front of the parade.
The Aurora church is considered a "frontrunner" in the LGBT community. It was one of the first churches in the area to have civil unions, church members said.
"We have been open and affirming to everyone," Kris Hasty said.
Hasty, 60, said she has two children with her partner.
"It gives us a little bit of comfort knowing we are accepted in the suburbs. We are thrilled that Aurora has decided to show its pride for the gay community," she said.
Carla Peters was part of the New England Congregational Church. "Today is a day of celebration and acknowledgement of who we are. This is monumental. I never thought this would happen in Aurora," Peters said.
"Aurora is so large we never knew where the support was. My wife and I first found support in the church," said Peters, 55.
The parade grand marshal was Jim Corti, artistic director at the Paramount Arts Theatre. Corti said the parade is a way to recognize a segment of Aurora's population.
"It's also good for young people who are struggling with their identity for us to be a good example, and to let them know we are here for them," Corti said prior to the parade stepping off.
Corti waved a "Got Love" placard to parade watchers along the route.
Zac Strater, 17, said he appreciates that his hometown is the first community in the suburbs to have such a parade.
"It's groundbreaking for the suburbs," Strater said.
Andrea Goudy and Mary Johnson met one another in 1971. The partners now live in Batavia. They drove the parade grand marshal in their red 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier convertible reserved for special occasions.
"The parade represents acceptance and validation," said Goudy, 71.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner was among the politicians that walked in the parade.
"It's wonderful to see the first Pride Parade in Aurora — it's awesome," Rauner shouted.
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, led a contingency of Democrats who marched in the parade as well.
Amanda Zigterman marched representing Community United Methodist Church of Naperville.
"We tell our children love is love," the Naperville woman said. "As a mother I feel anxious because of the heat, but I am happy to be here. We need to show more kindness in the world.”
Yorkville residents Richard Knox and Michael Loberg said the parade leaves them feeling hopeful. The partners found a glimmer of shade beneath a floral basket on the Benton Street Bridge.
"We never thought that we would see a Pride Parade so close to our hometown," said Loberg, 31. "While it feels as though we are getting pushed back at times, we are moving forward.”
Knox, 28, added, "It shows there is still some happiness in the world."