Richard Pfeiffer has been riding along the Chicago parade all 50 years.
He watched Chicago’s first-ever parade in 1970, was a volunteer marshal at the second, third and fourth parades, and he volunteered to be the coordinator at the fifth parade in 1974.
Pfeiffer remains the Pride Parade Coordinator for Chicago’s annual Pride Parade, held every year on the last Sunday of June.
The parade, he said, “is special for many reasons.”
“I was barely out of my teens (during the first-ever parade), depressed, and in the closet,” Pfeiffer said. “But seeing other people like myself marching was eye-opening and so important to me.”
Shortly thereafter, Pfeiffer became involved in gay organizations, namely the Chicago Gay Alliance, and others over the years.
Chicago’s inaugural Pride Parade was a march of about 100 people, he said.
This year, more than 2 million are expected to attend the parade.
It is now a “huge event,” Pfeiffer acknowledged.
Chicago’s Pride Parade is a city-wide event that attracts politicians galore, TV stars, sports personalities and more. Heck, a few years ago, even the Chicago Blackhawks allowed the Stanley Cup to ride with the Chicago Gay Hockey Association in the Chicago parade.
The Chicago Pride Parade has produced, literally, thousands of memories over the years. Pfeiffer said one that stands out for sure was the first year that PFLAG was in the parade. “In those days, we did not have barricades along the parade route. So, when young people who had been bullied and/or thrown out of their homes by (their) parents (saw PFLAG), they ran into the street hugging the parents,” he said. “Everyone was in tears …it was an inspiring moment for all.”
Just as emotion-filled: the first time HIV/AIDS patients were in the parade, he said.
Parade organizers at the time received a call from a then-new AIDS service group, asking if it could register for the parade. Organizers said, of course, definitely.
“On parade day (that year), as (the service group) proceeded (along) the parade route, there was applause that reverberated up and down the route. It was so moving to everybody that day.”
Another parade memory came in 1977, after Anita Bryant helped get a gay rights bill rescinded in Florida. “The national gay community became so angry that people began joining gay rights groups at record pace and the Pride Parades in all cities, including Chicago, grew in the number of gay participants and allies,” Pfeiffer said.
Pfeiffer now lives in East Lakeview with his husband, Tim Frye. They have been together for 48 years and Frye assists with the parade, too.
“My passion for the parade continues for many reasons. First, it saved my life,” Pfeiffer said. “As I mentioned earlier, when I watched that first Pride Parade as a young, depressed, in-the-closet gay man, it inspired me to become active in many gay groups. Second, to see (the parade) grow over the years is constantly inspiring. In the first year, it was marchers who in many cases did not have a lot to lose, (such as) students (and) teens who had been thrown out of their homes and rejected by families and friends as they) identified publically as gay. It has grown into an event that includes every segment of the LGBTQ+ communities, as well as our allies.
“This year’s parade is special because it’s the 50th anniversary. We have some new surprise entries, along with five local Grand Marshals, which is new this year. Generally, like most large Pride Parades nationwide, we have national Grand Marshals, often celebrities that have just come out or who have been out for many years. This year we have the first openly gay African-American woman in the city’s history as our Honorary Grand Marshal, along with Legacy Grand Marshals who have been involved locally even before Stonewall, as well as an Organization Grand Marshal and Youth Grand Marshal.”
Sunday’s Pride Parade is a celebration, 50 years in the making.