Rainbow flags, colorful balloons and thousands of brightly dressed people lined the streets of downtown Aurora on Sunday for the city's inaugural pride parade.
Many residents said they had been waiting years for their community to host such an event, which celebrated people of all identities. For the organizers of the Aurora Pride Parade -- the first of its kind in the Western suburbs -- seeing that vision become a reality is both overwhelming and humbling, said Chuck Adams, founder of Indivisible Aurora.
"It's a very emotional day for a lot of us, many of us who are allies of the LGBT community, who have loved ones in that community, or who are part of that community themselves," he said. "I told our members, 'Take a deep breath, exhale, smile and know that you are making history.' That's what we want to focus on right now."
About 60 parade entries made up of nearly 3,000 people braved the 90-degree heat to march along the U-shaped parade route. Participants included members of gay-straight alliances from Aurora-area schools, an LGBTQ alliance from the Aurora Police Department, and groups from the Fox Valley Park District, the Aurora Public Library, various local businesses and faith-based organizations.
Several businesses also offered specials during the day, such as food and drink deals and discounted apparel. A Balloon Creation, an Aurora party supply store, decorated the parade reviewing stand and the mayor's float. It also created large, colorful balloon displays to carry along the route.
"I'm very excited because Aurora is such a large community, and we've needed this for a long time to show that we are with the current times and trends," store owner Lisa Talip said. "For the whole community, I think it's a way of showing their individuality and their love."
A handful of protesters gathered in front of the reviewing stand denouncing the parade. Signs opposing the parade's message also were posted throughout the area overnight, but organizers removed them Sunday morning, Adams said.
"They have every right to exercise their First Amendment rights," he said. "We're going to focus on the people who are here to support the community."
Maritza Felix of Aurora said she attended the parade to set a good example for her children. As a lesbian, she said she wants them to know that they can love and express themselves in any way.
"It's awesome because it shows that we're growing. It shows that people are starting to accept people for who they are," Felix said. "It's OK to show our youth that it's OK to be different. It's OK to be who you are and not have to fight it."
North Aurora resident Vince Zell said it's refreshing to see a pride parade held outside Chicago and hopes the trend will continue. The event brings awareness to the suburbs, he said, and serves as an opportunity to lift up individuals who don't always get the support they need.
"This is the place for all of us to just be one, together," Zell said. "Why stop here? Spread the love from here out."