Reflections From My First Chicago Pride Parade As An Openly Queer Gal

Reflections From My First Chicago Pride Parade As An Openly Queer Gal

I needed Pride to show me that I am not alone. That I am accepted, understood, and loved for who I am.

Colleen Connelly

I wouldn’t say that I was ever “closeted”. Rather, my road to self-discovery has been long, and I never felt I could explain myself sufficiently while still self-searching. After all, how do you get people to understand something you don’t yet understand fully yourself? All I knew for sure was that I simply could not package who I was in the neat little boxes my society expected of me. Eventually, that was enough, and I arrived at the label “queer”.

I yearned to be a part of a community of others like me. I desired a safe space to learn, grow, and explore my intersecting identities. And I knew I’d find it all with Pride. Lucky for me, June was around the corner, so I started making plans to attend my first ever Pride Parade in Chicago on the 25th.

I never had a huge “I’m queer” announcement— I always kind of figured that if straight people weren’t expected to post a “coming out”, then why should I have to?— so I was aware that openly celebrating Pride would effectively out me to many unsuspecting friends and family members. That thought made me nervous, but I was okay with it. Every single day since taking queer as my label I have become more comfortable in my own skin and more able to truly embody what being queer means to me. I was ready for the world to know.

Throughout the weeks leading up to Pride, I looked for ways to share who I was with the people around me. I found the courage to be vulnerable at coffee shop dates, at parties, and around the family dinner table. When my friends came home from college, I further opened up to them over a plate of brownies. I noticed that the more I voiced it, the easier sharing became. It was such a relief to be able to casually state that I am queer, whether I was met with silence, questions, or a confession of my loved one’s own queerness.

One of those friends even went with me to Chicago’s Pride! We planned our outfits, caught a train to the city, and joined thousands of others waltzing to Boystown for the parade, rainbow flags in hand. We made friends with fellow rainbow spirits, screamed for every float, and even got emotional as the signs people held up hit us on a more personal level than we were expecting.

Most of all, we celebrated ourselves and the unique identities of our LGBTQIA+ family. We witnessed people living authentically, unapologetically, freely. We walked into the streets and were immediately validated for who we are. When we walked away, we were sure of a few things: we are queer, we are proud, we are lovers.

I needed Pride to show me that I am not alone. That I am accepted, understood, and loved for who I am. That I can be happy, confident, and proud of this queer identity. And let me just say— mission accomplished.

But the rainbow confetti has long been cleared from Chicago’s streets, and June is officially over. To be surrounded by such love and celebration was an incredible experience, but a lot of us had to go back home to places where we are once again the outsider. That’s quite a snap back to reality because Pride was almost like a refuge— a happy place of freedom from any sort of suffering. I am left wondering: when the rainbow high fades— when billboards lose their colorful ads, an ignorant comment weighs us down, or when support seems unreachable— how do we keep the pride in our hearts?

For one, we stay connected to the community. We don’t have to match the spectacle of Pride parades in order to create a safe space of love, support, and celebration in our ordinary lives. We can commit to having pride every day by waving our rainbow flags, strengthening queer resources on campus and in our communities, and raising our voices to keep the conversation alive with everyone around us.

Whatever you do, continue to support your LGBTQIA+ family. Being queer is a deeply personal identity, but it’s also a political one. The best way to show your pride is to join the human rights campaign. Remember that Pride is about more than rainbow colored buttons and advertisements— it’s about queer liberation. Learn your queer history, find a politically active group near you, and commit to attending the next march or action. Most importantly, never forget that we are not free until all of us are free— so support and fight for your trans brothers and sisters, your non-binary friends, and queer people of color. Yes, we can celebrate the fact that Chicago painted rainbows on the CTA last weekend. But we also need to fight for our cities to allocate resources to things like queer healthcare and equal employment.

Lastly, if you’re a straight ally, don’t wait until next June to visibly show your support again. We need your love every day of the year. It’s not enough to just add a rainbow filter to your Facebook profile picture for the 30 days of June. We are counting on you to be an ally every day by standing up for queer folk in your community, in politics, and in daily conversation. One of the best ways to be an ally is to educate yourself and others whenever possible.

Pride month may be over, but that doesn’t mean we’re putting away our rainbow flags. I hope June’s celebrations lit (or reignited) your inner fire for queer liberation and self-expression like they did for me. I hope your spirits have been lifted, I hope you feel at home in who you are, and I hope you feel connected to your LGBTQIA+ community. Most of all, I hope that you take memories of this year's pride with you and continue to live proudly-- authentic and unapologetic-- each and every day. Happy Pride! It doesn’t end here.

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