Aurora's first gay pride parade 'to celebrate everyone'
Already a city of diversity, Aurora is about to host a new event designed to acknowledge, include and welcome people of all identities.
It's the city's first gay pride parade, set to step off at noon Sunday, June 17, from Benton Avenue and River Street.
The purpose of the parade is "to celebrate everyone," said Chuck Adams, founder of Indivisible Aurora, which got city permission in March to host the new event.
"We want to validate and celebrate and affirm the LGBTQ community in Aurora and the Western suburbs," Adams said, "and to help people who are struggling with their identity to understand that it will get better."
Featuring 60 units in what's promised to be a G-rated environment, the event will allow gay-straight alliances, LGBTQ groups, bands, businesses, dancers, politicians, faith organizations and anyone with pride in their identity to put it on display. In that way, pride parades tend to reflect the communities in which they take place, so organizers say Aurora's will be family-friendly and inclusive.
"It's going to be the kind of thing where you can bring anybody -- from teens to your grandma to your 6-year-old," said Gwyn Ciesla, an Indivisible Aurora board member and one of the organizers of the parade. "We're reaching out to everybody and saying that every individual is a member of the community, no matter what our differences are."
Gaining approval for the parade required a debate in front of the city's government operations committee, in which opponents voiced concerns about logistics, safety, financing, nudity, the potential for unlawful behavior and the fact the event is scheduled for Father's Day.
Supporters convinced two of the three government operations committee members to vote in favor of the event, and when the third abstained, the event got the go-ahead.
Since then, Adams said Indivisible Aurora has been fundraising through a GoFundMe page. The page so far has raised $8,455.
"What's really nice is that we have received Facebook messages and emails and donations from Aurorans all around the country … who have said to us, 'I left Aurora years ago because I never felt accepted. I'm coming back home for this parade,'" Adams said. "There's nothing prouder."
Participating parade units are set to include the Lakeside Pride LGBT marching band from Chicago, an LGBTQ alliance from the Aurora Police Department, gay-straight alliances from Aurora-area high schools and colleges, and groups from SciTech Hands On Museum, the Aurora Public Library, the Fox Valley Park District, a synagogue and 10 churches.
"We're really excited to have all of them add to the festive atmosphere that we're trying to convey here," Adams said.
One of the participating churches is New England Congregational Church United Church of Christ, which Senior Minister Gary McCann says already welcomes many lesbian and gay members with professionally led support groups for high school students who are questioning their sexual or gender identity, as well as families and friends of people in the LGBT community.
Wearing matching shirts and marching behind a rainbow banner with the words "Jesus didn't exclude anyone; neither do we," will be about 85 church members who all "want to support this community," McCann said.
As her home city celebrates its first pride parade, Ciesla will, too. Although she's researched several pride fests as she's helped plan Aurora's first, she has never attended.
"As an LGBT person, you'd think so," she said. "But I haven't."
She said that further underscores the need for a suburban celebration of pride.
"It's a long time coming," Ciesla said about the parade. "I was surprised to find out that there hadn't been anything in a city this size before."
The parade route makes a "U" shape in downtown, heading east on Benton from River Street, then turning north on Broadway and west on Downer Place to end where Downer meets River Street.
At least 11 businesses, listed on the parade website as "Pride Stops" are offering specials on parade day, including cheap pizza, drink deals, buy-one-get-one pastries, discounted apparel and $1-per-minute chair massages.
The route of about a half-mile isn't far, but it's enough to make Aurora's gay pride evident, organizers say. If the event goes well, Indivisible Aurora may try to expand next year to include more of a festival environment.