CHICAGO (CBS) — Organizers of the Gay Pride Parade have decided to reverse one of the changes that had been planned for next year, in an effort to accommodate a Roman Catholic church on Belmont Avenue.
As WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Conway reports, back on October, organizers of the parade announced that next year, its route would start nearly half a mile farther north than past years in Uptown, and it would start at 10 a.m. rather than noon.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Conway reports
But leaders at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, 708 W. Belmont Ave., complained that the new route would draw massive crowds and block access to parishioners coming to the church for Sunday mass. The parade is held on the last Sunday in June.
The new route sends the parade directly past the church for the first time.
ChicagoPride.com reports Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) met with parade organizer Richard Pfeiffer last week to talk about the concerns expressed by the church about the route and the new start time, which is an hour before morning mass.
In a joint statement, Tunney and Pfeiffer said they decided to reverse the plan to start the parade earlier, and go back to the noon start time. They called it an “agreeable compromise to help keep the parade safe and manageable while respecting the diversity of our neighborhood,” ChicagoPride.com reported.
The stated purpose of the earlier start time was to cut down on public drinking. While some neighborhood bars set up outdoor refreshment stands during the parade, many people bring their own coolers and drink throughout the day, even though doing so is technically forbidden.
When the change was announced, some readers on the Boystown Facebook page were dismissive, saying people would just start drinking at noon or earlier instead of 2 or 3 p.m.
With the earlier start time reversed, reaction on the page was largely positive, with ne man remarking that he “didn’t really want to get up that early.”
But one reader said the church, and not the parade, should alter its schedule for that one day.
“Why can’t they reschedule their service? 500,000 people vs. 50?” he wrote.
Boystown Facebook page readers were also angered by a remark by Francis Cardinal George this week, in which he told Fox Chicago News that he disapproved of the new route because the “gay liberation movement” should not “morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism.”
The remarks drew a rebuke by the Rainbow Sash Movement, an organization of gay Roman Catholics. In a statement, the group said George wanted to “promote a double standard when it comes to the Gay Pride Parade,” given that church leaders do not take issue with disruptions to churches during the Chicago Marathon, which is also held on a Sunday.
The parade route change has also drawn criticism.
The new route starts at the intersection of Broadway and Montrose Avenue in Uptown, 0.75 miles from the north end of the Halsted Street Boystown strip, organizers said. The parade will continue southeast on Broadway to Halsted Street, and head south down the Boystown strip to Belmont Avenue.
Then the parade will head east for two blocks on Belmont and return to Broadway, where it will resume its traditional route and head south on Broadway and east on Diversey Parkway.
The old route sent the parade north on Halsted from Belmont to the street’s terminus at Broadway and Grace Street. The parade then made a turn of more than 135 degrees to head southeast on Broadway to Diversey Parkway, and finally east on Diversey to Cannon Drive.
The change means an increase of five blocks in the total length of the route.
In addition to adding two blocks of Belmont Avenue and the more than half a mile through Uptown, the new route also eliminates one section – Broadway between Grace Street and Belmont Avenue. On that stretch, huge crowds have traditionally gathered in the parking lot of the Treasure Island grocery store at 3460 N. Broadway, at the mouth of several east-west cross-streets, and on rooftops, to watch the parade.
“The Pride Parade reroute completely cuts out Boystown’s Broadway corridor between Grace and Belmont,” one business on the stretch, Pie Hole Pizza Joint, said on its Facebook page in October. “Nearly 100 businesses are shut out of what they have supported and relied on for years as a much needed summer boost in revenue.”
In addition, the number of entries will be cut from 250 to 200, which will shorten the time of the parade and allow the streets to reopen sooner, organizers said.
This year’s parade back on June 27 drew an estimated 800,000 people. The crowd swelled to the point that police had to stop the parade briefly so that a swarm of people could cross Halsted Street at Belmont Avenue and reduce congestion, and some of the floats ended up being unable to participate.
Farther north, the crowds reportedly swelled to the point of danger.
Immediately after the parade, organizer Rich Pfeiffer told the Windy City Times that alternate routes might have to be discussed.