Over the last 50 years, the annual Chicago Pride Parade has evolved into one of city's biggest and most inclusive celebrations. Hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists crowd the streets of Boystown and Lakeview to celebrate the occasion, with the help of decorated floats, dance troupes and live music. To honor the Pride Parade's 50th year in Chicago, we dug through the Chicago History Museum’s photo archive with longtime parade organizer Richard Pfeiffer to find old-school snaps of past events. Pfeiffer narrated the photos to life through personal stories and memories.
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Relive Pride Parades past below, and don't forget to mark your calendar: The Chicago Pride Parade steps off on Sunday, June 30 at noon from Broadway and Montrose Avenue, heading south on Broadway then south on Halsted Street. From there, the procession heads east on Belmont Avenue, south on Broadway and east on Diversey to Cannon Drive.
The parade’s maiden 1970 voyage was more like a march, with an estimated 200 attendees walking from Washington Square Park to Civic Center (now Daley Plaza). “For me, it was incredible because I had never seen so many different types of gay people,” says Pfeiffer, who attended the inaugural event and has coordinated the parade since 1974. “I was really in the closet and kind of depressed. It was an eye-opener. After that, I got involved in the community.”
After the first year, the festivities moved north, which gave the parade room for a bigger crowd. “In the early era, it was primarily white people marching, but you did have some people of color involved,” says Pfeiffer. “As the years went on, more and more people of color joined in, and the parade became more diverse.”
The parade’s crowd topped 100,000, with folks coming from near and far to join forces in Lakeview, holding signs that read "Elect women now," "Lesbian rights" and "Keep abortion legal." Later that year, U.S. voters would go on to elect 47 women to the House of Representatives. “For the last 20 to 25 years, the majority of the volunteers for the parade have been women,” says Pfeiffer. “We’ve never had an issue getting women involved.”
Four years ago, when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, the Pride Parade was cause for extra celebration. These days, the annual event continues to welcome dozens of flashy floats, live music, dance troupes and more than 1 million participants. No matter how big the celebration becomes, Pfeiffer says it will always be about hope: “It was the thing that brought me out and saved my life. I think about all the LGBTQ youth who are being bullied and how much seeing that parade changed my life. It’s really important to me.”