As I See It Opinion

United in Pride and Tragedy

Written by Richard Hack

Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride went off without a hitch last Saturday—or at least so it seemed to the 40,000 who poured onto Wilton Drive as if to prove they were standing tall and proud in the face of the Orlando massacre that was still fresh in the minds of all who attended.

“I admit I’m nervous,” said Victoria Blum, who had traveled from Chicago to be part of the experience. “I see all these police, and wonder if they know something we don’t. Like a threat, or an arrest. But it’s important for us to be seen, especially now.”

The parade began with 49 marchers, each holding individual signs with a name of a victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. As if in defiance, the solemn moment of silence was broken by applause as attendees cheered in victory as the marchers passed by.

As these things go, Wilton Manors, Florida, is still a small town, with a small town parade, and a small town community that joins together in times of strife.

It was what Victoria Blum needed. She had, after all, left her hometown which was celebrating its own Pride the same weekend. The difference is that Chicago is a major city, with a major police presence that had been substantially beefed up for the occasion.

Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson made public his plans last week for more uniformed cops, plainclothes officers, a bike patrol and additional K-9 units that were placed stratigically throughout the two-day Pride Fest celebration in Boystown.

With memorial shrines on the street, the event was a well-orchestrated testament to the strength of the LGBT community who patiently waited at security checkpoints as security staff meticulously checked backpacks, one pocket at a time.

While hundreds of thousands participated in the street festival, there was only a single glaring note of violence: a transgender woman was stabbed near the parking lot of a 7-Eleven at the corner of Halsted and Belmont Streets, and was later taken to Illinois Masonic Medical Center where she was reported in stable condition.

DJ Tek posted on Twitter: “It’s a zoo up here” he wrote. “These gay kids are crazy. Pulling out knives…It’s 3:45 and this is happening now. I gotta go. People trying to jump on my bike. Trying to avoid the New York from coming out.”

In Denver, where 300,000 revelers flocked onto the street, the police presence was dwarfed by private security. “We’re making security a top priority,” said organizer Debra Pollock, chief executive officer of the GLBT Community Center of Colorado, which is holding that city’s event.

Likewise in San Francisco, where over a million attended it annual Pride celebration. The San Francisco police and the FBI met individually with bar owners and organizers to choreograph the security at the event.

George Ridgely, executive director of the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Celebration Committee, said that his group entered the festival with a “heavy heart.”

“It is important that we all recognize not only of what we have achieved but also of what we have yet to accomplish,” Ridgely said.

The annual pride festival in New Orleans, which took place last Saturday as well, opened with a prayer that plead for safety and peace, and a reading of the names of the 49 victims of the Pulse Nightclub massacre.

Yet not even the largest mass shooting in recent US history could quell the celebration as local DJs turned up the sound to get the party started.  There were those in attendance that were old enough to remember the 1972 arson in the French Quarter that destroyed the Up Stairs lounge and killed 32 people, trapped by the flames and bars over the windows.

“We triumphed then and we’ll triumph now,” lamented Lamont Evan from Baton Rouge, one of the survivors of the blaze. “It’s what we do; how we are.”  United in Pride and tragedy.