CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s Pride Month, and this weekend the city’s annual Pride Parade will step off on the North Side, with thousands of people lining the parade route in celebration. But it wasn’t always so joyful.
CBS 2 Morning Insider Vince Gerasole spoke to some of those who risked their jobs and safety to take part in Chicago’s early gay rights marches. They said being a piece of pride history was worth it.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Freezing Overnight
Chicago’s Pride Parade has turned into a colorful celebration of diversity and equality, but gay activist Art Johnston remembers a very different time barely 40 years ago.
“I have very vivid memories of those days,” he said. “People could be legally fired from their jobs just because they were gay.”
His sprawling bar, Sidetrack, is a Boystown fixture. It opened as a small corner gay bar, succeeding against the odds.
“In 1983, I had a policeman stop me in front of the bar,” he said. “He said, ‘You know, we have way too many f*****g f**s in this part of town as it is. I’m shutting you down,’ and they threw me in jail.”
Ironically, that jail is now part of an affordable housing development for gays and lesbians.
Donald Bell marched in one of the city’s early Pride Parades there. He worked at the University of Illinois as a housing dean for 20 years.READ MORE: Emmett Till's Cousin Reacts To Conviction Of Derek Chauvin And Today's State Of Racial Justice; George Floyd's Brother Said Till Was 'The First George Floyd'
“One of my former students, whom I never knew, yelled out of the crowd, and said, ‘Hey, Don Bell,’” he said. “On the inside I was totally startled. This kind of news getting back to campus before I did could have cost me my job.”
Johnston said many gay people were afraid to come out in the 1970s.
“We had certainly never been publicly gay in the daytime,” he said.
In June 1977, Johnston was part of a protest march against an appearance by singer Anita Bryant, a popular celebrity and devout Christian who opposed gay rights laws taking shape across the country.
“She decided that gay people were bad,” Johnston said.
Johnston recalled sensing a change in the air as protesters marched against Bryant.
“When you looked around the other people marching, you could see in each other’s eyes that something new was happening,” he said. “It was really the beginning here in Chicago of gay people standing up for ourselves.”MORE NEWS: Rev. Jesse Jackson After Chauvin Verdict: 'We Must Learn To Live Together As Brothers And Sisters And Not Die Apart'
Nearly 1 million people will turn out for Chicago’s Pride Parade, each marching in the shadow of those who took the daring first steps on the North Side.