South Side Pride brings the party to Washington Park

David Robertson, Joe Musiel, and Payton Head (left to right) pose for the camera in the DuSable Museum’s Roundhouse building, during South Side Pride festivities, Saturday, June 29, 2019. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Staff writers

The first South Side Pride festival was full of heart and hope. LGBTQ people had a chance to celebrate on the sun-soaked grounds of the DuSable Museum instead of having to trek north to Boystown, where Chicago’s main Pride events have long been held.

It was an emphatic expression of joy rooted in the Black LGBTQ experience. A number of acts performed on stage throughout the afternoon of June 29. Vendors and representatives from social service organizations set up shop in the DuSable’s Roundhouse, a former horse stable-turned-art space; rainbow-colored glass from a past exhibition remained and provided appropriate lighting for the day’s fun.

“We had a group of kids come in, they were like, ‘We don’t ever get to come to Pride on the North Side, because our parents don’t want to be around these big crowds of people,” said organizer Adrienne Irmer. “But we’re right down the street, so it’s fine!”

Many attendees remarked about how happy they were to have a space close to home. “It’s a safe space. It’s an opportunity for individuals to be connected to their community and these resources that involve them,” said David Robertson, a Pride attendee. His friend Payton Head said how wonderful it was to have the event at the DuSable, a Smithsonian-affiliated institution and one of the first museums dedicated to Black history and culture.

“Having the space to honor queerness within our community and show visibility — to show we are here, we aren’t going anywhere and we are queer — is important and so impactful,” Head said. “I’m proud to be here today. I think this event is wonderful.”

While there have always been a number of LGBTQ-oriented events happening on the South Side, South Side Pride was the area’s first Pride festival, celebrated during the day.

Kia Taylor came to South Side Pride with her girlfriend, Brianna Harris. Growing up on the South Side and in the south suburbs, “there was never anything like this, so it feels really good,” Taylor said. That being said, the two regularly get catcalled when showing affection publicly — it even happened en route to the DuSable. But once they arrived, “We can do it without being sexualized or shunned or looked at weird,” Taylor said.

First-term Woodlawn Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) said she would not have missed South Side Pride for the world. “I love who they are — and I tell people all the time, I want us to roll up our sleeves and do the work of changing out community.” She noted the difficulty that many of her LGBTQ constituents face. “Especially in the Black community, we don’t talk, we don’t have those conversations. You’d be surprised at the number of suicides you hear from young people who can’t come out to their family because of the old cliches about being gay.”

Saaji Mahal (left) dances with performer Boogie McClarin as they celebrate during South Side Pride festivities at DuSable Museum’s Roundhouse building, Saturday, June 29, 2019. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Taylor said she wants to start facilitating more conversations through her elected office. “We’re going to have open dialogue about a lot of things: sexuality, racism — we’ve just got to have a conversation about it,” she said. “I want us to get to a space where those who share conversations with our elders, and we’re able to accept each other.”

Serette King, associate director of community engagement with the Howard Brown Health network of LGBTQ-serving clinics, said his organization has made heavy investments into the South Side and received more acceptance in time. There are now locations in Hyde Park, specifically at 1525 E. 55th St., as well as Englewood and Back of the Yards, all of which are “making sure that people who are uninsured or don’t have the appropriate insurance get care at federally qualified health service providers.”

“When we’re looking at people overall, everybody needs appropriate care,” King said. Howard Brown is working especially for transgender patients and the sexual health needs of men who have sex with men. “Those are very important parts of care that people don’t focus on, because it’s not spoken about or we don’t provide that kind of care appropriately at times.”

Octavia Reese brought her three sons to South Side Pride, where they made use of the giant checkers board and Jenga organizers set up. “Pride is for everyone, especially children … I want them to know that there are more options than just he/her and she/him and they/them,” she said. “There’s a whole spectrum of how people identify their sexual orientations and gender identity, and I want them to know that there’s a possibility that, if they decide to go outside of norms, that there’s a whole community to support them — including their mother.”

She called for more family-friendly LGBTQ events on the South Side. “Kids know from a very young age, and if they know that they can be fearlessly themselves and be protected and loved through whatever process they need to go through, that could change their whole future.”

South Side Pride was far from the first Pride that 71-year-old Kenwood resident Raymond Coffman attended — not by a long shot. He was at Chicago’s first in 1970, when a few hundred protesters paraded down from Old Town to the Loop in the heady days of Gay Liberation. He planned to march in the city’s main Pride parade the next day.

“I’ve seen the full gamut of the history and change of things here,” he said, recalling the fear demonstrators overcame then and in the subsequent 49 years. Problems exist, he conceded. Racism is still a serious problem in the LGBTQ community — he said he was recently ostracized in a LGBTQ professional networking group for gay because he is Black.

“And that’s why I really appreciate having a Pride event here on the South Side,” he said. “We’re more inclusive now than we were back in the day, and I’m finding it amazing to be on the train going to the parades and seeing so many people. It just makes me feel good to know that some of the activism and some of the actions that have been taken by other people have produced a community that is really thriving.”