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850,000 Turn Out For Expanded Pride Parade

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City officials estimated 850,000 people attended the Chicago Pride Parade on June 24, 2012. (Credit: CBS)

City officials estimated 850,000 people attended the Chicago Pride Parade on June 24, 2012. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – There was plenty of pride in the Uptown and Lakeview neighborhoods on Sunday, as a record crowd turned out for the annual Chicago Pride Parade.

City officials estimated a record 850,000 people attended the parade, up from 750,000 last year, according to Delores Robinson of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

This year’s parade comes on the heels of a couple important milestones for the LGBT community: President Barack Obama’s public support for gay marriage, and the end of the government’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays in the military.

CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports the Pride Parade also featured a new, longer route this year, stepping off from Broadway and Montrose.

At five blocks longer than the old parade route, organizers were hoping for a more controlled and manageable crowd, by providing more space for spectators.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Michele Fiore reports

Many in the crowd held up signs supporting legalization of gay marriage, which was a central focus of this year’s parade.

“I think it is a focus of a lot of people,” said Gary Chichester, co-chair of the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.

The powerbrokers in the parade didn’t shy from the subject, either.

Gov. Pat Quinn, who signed the legislation that legalized same-sex civil unions in Illinois last year, voiced his support for gay marriage in the state.

“You need to get a majority in both houses for that in order to get it on my desk, but I think we’re moving in that direction every day,” Quinn said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he’d help lobby for the Illinois General Assembly to do just that.

“I pushed the civil union legislation when I wasn’t even mayor, and I will help that. I’m already on record for it, and I’ve talked to the (legislative) leaders on it,” Emanuel said.

But the co-sponsors of proposed legislation to legalize gay marriage in Illinois have acknowledged the votes aren’t there in Springfield yet to approve the measure.

With Obama voicing his support for gay marriage earlier this year, some have been left wondering if the topic will be a major election issue in November.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said it’s a significant issue for the LGBT community, and “People who support civil liberties and civil rights will support the president.”

Over the past 43 years, the Chicago Pride Parade arguably has empowered people to fight for causes they believe in, like gay marriage. This year was no exception. Just ask U.S. Army veteran Dee Jenkins.

She said it was “very important” for her to be able to march in the parade on Sunday, because “I went through the military when the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was first adopted, and it wasn’t very popular.”

But, along with the serious, the parade has always had its fun, flamboyant side.

Spectator Anna Michael said she attends the parade “to see the floats.”

Gay activist Vernita Gray, who has attended the Pride Parade for 43 years, said, “From 89 hippies to this incredible parade that we’re having today … we have come a long way.”

Police have said there were no reports of trouble with the parade so far. Last year, several parade floats were damaged by vandals before the start of the parade.

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