You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

LGBTQ Chicagoans face a Pride Month without street festivals, bar-hopping or the iconic parade: ‘It’s kind of heartbreaking.'

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 6/3/2020 By Nara Schoenberg, Chicago Tribune
a group of people standing around a motorcycle: A man dressed in drag during the Gay Liberation March on June 27, 1976. © Sally Good / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS A man dressed in drag during the Gay Liberation March on June 27, 1976.

It’s a family reunion for LGBTQ Chicago.

It’s a citywide celebration that draws 1 million people into streets transformed by music and laughter, pink hair and washboard abs, rainbow flags and feather headdresses.

It’s a chance to celebrate who you are, loudly and proudly, at teeming festivals and boisterous bars.

However you define Pride Month, the June celebration of LGBTQ identity and activism will be very different this year, with many of its signature events gone, diminished or transformed due to social distancing restrictions made necessary by COVID-19.

“It’s kind of heartbreaking because a lot of people use this time to be free,” said Tyrone Landingham, 29, a registered nurse who would typically be enjoying a Pride Month reunion with out-of-town friends.

The 51-year-old Pride Parade, one of Chicago’s largest public celebrations, is a particularly big loss. Never canceled before, it is now officially postponed until the fall, organizers say, and may not be held this year at all.

Veteran Chicago LGBTQ activist Gary Chichester had hoped to carry a flag from the 1971 parade in this year’s celebration.

Chicago Pride Parade coordinator Tim Frye, 77, had been looking forward to honoring the memory of his late husband, Richard Pfeiffer, who ran the parade for more than 40 years before dying of cancer in October.

“I came out in the second parade,” Frye said. “Richard came out in the first. And in the days of email, we used to get emails from little towns all over the Midwest. I grew up in a small town in Indiana, and I got a phone call — this was a long time ago — from an even smaller town, 10 miles from where I grew up, and they wanted to know when the parade was because it was ‘their day.’”

But if there’s disappointment, there’s also a surge of energy and excitement with the feisty Pinta Pride Project in suburban Buffalo Grove pivoting to a Pride Drive, in which residents decorate their houses with flags, ornaments and banners, and invite spectators to drive by and see the DIY splendor.

H. Melt, a Chicago poet who is transgender and uses they/them pronouns, said they are proud that Dyke March has created a mutual aid fund for those affected by COVID-19 and its fallout, and that Brave Space Alliance has organized a food pantry.

H. Melt sees such developments as a return to Pride Month’s activist roots. America’s Pride parades were born of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, when LGBTQ New Yorkers, including transgender people of color, protested government-sanctioned police raids on gay bars.

“I think that (Pride Month) energy has been redirected in really beautiful ways,” said H. Melt.

There are also virtual parades and get-togethers, such as Virtual Chicago Pride Fest, and some Chicagoans are hosting small gatherings with friends. Cultural resources include the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives website, which is releasing newly digitized videos of Chicago Pride Parades and rallies dating to 1970.

“Pride isn’t just a parade — it’s something in your head,” said Chichester. “When you’re proud of yourself, you can accept yourself. I think that’s really one of the most important things about the celebration of Pride: to be able to accept yourself.”

The Tribune spoke to five LGBTQ Chicagoans from different backgrounds and perspectives about this unprecedented Pride Month. The following interviews were edited for brevity and clarity.

Molly Pinta, who is bisexual, is a co-founder of the Pinta Pride Project in Buffalo Grove. She is 14.

What does Pride Month mean to you?

Pride is a time when I can celebrate my identity without limits or judgment. When I go to Pride events, you can dress however you want or act however you want, and people won’t judge you for your identity.

What will you miss most this year?

Seeing all the people. At the (Buffalo Grove Pride) Parade 1/4 u201a you can look into the crowd and see hundreds of people wearing rainbow outfits and all different colors and smiling faces, but you won’t really be able to see that.

How else will you be celebrating?

This year we will be doing a Pride celebration, but of course different. It’s going to be a kind of reverse parade. There will be houses that will be decorated, and people can drive through the streets in their cars, so there’s no risk of passing along COVID. People will be giving out rainbow accessories and things like that (without contact). There will be drag queens and music and a Santa that people can enjoy from the safety of their cars.

Tim Frye, who is gay, is coordinator of the Chicago Pride Parade. He is 77.

What does Pride Month mean to you?

My whole idea — and I think this applies to Pride Month as well as the parade itself — is that I’ve always done it for that one person that comes and says, “Oh boy, I’m not alone.” That to me is the most important thing of all. I hope there’s more than one (person who says that), but one will do. If we could change one person’s life with the parade, that was great.

Tell me about the 1972 parade.

I was standing and watching it, and it was like, “Shazam!” I guess you could say. I came home and I came out to an old friend I was sharing an apartment with. He didn’t fall on the floor and faint. It was like, “OK, good for you.” And back in 1972, that was kind of extraordinary.

What did you feel during the “Shazam” moment?

Relief more than anything. You see other people, and you know they’re your family. You’re not from Mars. When I was in high school, I felt like I landed from Mars and nobody else could possibly know (how I felt). Suddenly you feel like you’re part of something, and it makes a huge difference.

What will you miss most this year?

Oh, I was with (my husband) Richard (Pfeiffer) for 48 years, and he is who I will miss most. He did the Pride Parade. He was the coordinator for most of the years we were together (and died of cancer in October). Other than that, I’ll miss the excitement of the parade and when it starts. You always get — I don’t know — a bit of a shiver.

H. Melt, 29, is a Chicago poet. They are transgender and gender nonconforming.

What does Pride Month mean to you?

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is that while the Pride Parade is (postponed) and corporate Pride is canceled, there are so many things going on at this moment that really connect to queer history. The reason that the Pride Parade even exists is in response to Stonewall and police harassment and police brutality (toward) queer and trans folks, and (toward) black queer and trans folks in their own spaces. Some of the issues that are (now) affecting the most vulnerable folks in the queer and trans community are police brutality and imprisonment. Just remembering Pride as resistance, especially as a white queer person supporting black and brown movements for liberation, is really important.

Is Pride Month different for you this year?

It looks really different just in terms of I’m not going to be surrounded by community in the same way. Some of the annual traditions like Dyke March, for example, aren’t happening this year. But I’ve seen a lot of people coming up with creative ways (to respond). Dyke March is doing fundraising to create a mutual aid fund right now, even though they can’t physically have their annual march and rally. So yeah, I’m really proud of the ways that the queer community has organized around this moment, and been able to prioritize what’s been needed. I’ve been really impressed by the work of Brave Space Alliance on the South Side, and the ways that they’ve organized a food pantry and provided shelter to protesters. Some of the most essential needs, like having food, having shelter, having a ride home, those are the things that a lot of people are struggling with right now.

Tyrone Landingham, 29, is gay and a registered nurse in Chicago.

What does Pride Month mean to you?

For me, it’s really just freedom to express yourself, whatever that means to you. To just really let your hair down and be free.

Will it be different this year?

Absolutely, there’s usually lots of activities going on during the entire month, and now with bars being closed and party promoters not being able to host events, (those are gone). My friends from undergrad normally fly in, or I fly to them during these times. It’s somewhat of a reunion for us. We’re all living our adult lives, and we don’t always get together and hang out and celebrate one another. We kind of use these times to do that, in spaces where we can be free.

What will you be doing this year?

I’ll definitely spend time with my friends who are here. And maybe we’ll do something creative, like have a margarita contest: Who can make the best margarita? We can just get a colorful array of margaritas and have a margarita party.

Gary Chichester, 73, is a former co-chair of The Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame. He is gay.

What does Pride Month mean to you?

I go way back. I was involved in the first Pride March in 1970, and I then became president of the Chicago Gay Alliance and we basically did the first Pride Parade (the next year). My signature was on the first Streets and Sanitation permit for the parade. I’ve just seen it grow and grow over the years, and this isn’t our first pandemic. The AIDS pandemic back in the early 1980s, back then it was a death sentence; now it’s not. So it’s great to see people come out. When you see the suicide risk among (LGBTQ) kids because they feel like they’re lost, Pride is one way of showing them that they’re not the only ones in the world, and they can see people they can look up to.

Will it be different this year?

Well there are some things going on (virtually). So I’m looking forward to sitting down in my own little home, maybe with a glass of wine — maybe Champagne, who knows — and watching. Being a person of a certain age, I’ve kind of done it all. (Laughs.) I’ve celebrated Pride in New York and LA, Chicago. I’ve even found myself in Ephesus (Turkey) one year for Pride, and I had my little rainbow flag with me. I’m surprised I didn’t get arrested, but I marched down the main street in Ephesus in my own little Pride Parade. In all the thousands of years of Ephesus, I think that’s the first Pride Parade they’ve had.

What will you be doing this year?

Because I have so many images of past parades, every day in June I’m going to make a post of a favorite Pride photo, and I’m encouraging everyone to do the same thing and just take over Facebook and the various social media with images of Pride.


©2020 the Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


More from Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon