'Here to support love': First Elgin Pride Parade and Festival kicks off Pride Month Saturday
Mark Rayos became a little emotional as he looked around at the gathering crowd of smiling faces.
"This is home," he said.
The first Elgin Pride Parade and Festival took place Saturday in and around Festival Park in downtown Elgin to kick off Pride Month. About 35 groups participated in the late-morning parade that went down Riverside Drive and Grove Avenue.
After the parade, the afternoon was filled with food, drinks, music and vendors keeping visitors entertained in the park.
For Rayos, born and raised in Elgin and one of the event organizers, Saturday was the culmination of four years of work spearheaded by ELGbtq+ founder Kayla Bates. Planning began in 2019, but the pandemic put the event on hold until this year.
"As a queer man who grew up here, this means a lot," Rayos said. "I couldn't come out when I was in high school. But I came to know myself and came out later, and I decided to move back here from Chicago in 2019. It's pretty full circle. It's kind of a homecoming."
Partners Butch Stege and Bob Knizner, who live in Pingree Grove, spent several years living together in downtown Elgin. As they walked to the parade on Saturday, they talked about how much the event means to them.
"We've always said they should do something like this in Elgin for the gay community, because there is a big community in Elgin," Knizner said. "It's just people don't know it."
Stege, 74, also was born and raised in Elgin. He's attended numerous Pride Month events in Chicago through the years, but now he has an event in his hometown.
"I think it's great," Stege said. "Now we don't have to go to Chicago. It won't be exactly like a Chicago parade, but it's a start. It's been a long time coming."
Elgin resident Laney Kelsey and three of her friends brought their kids to the parade early on Saturday to make sure they had a good viewing spot. Kelsey said she and her friends wanted the seven children, ranging from 3 to 8 years old, to experience what they considered a historic event.
"This is a part of their history, what they'll remember," Kelsey said. "We need to expose them to this to experience the love and acceptance. We're just here to support love, support what we believe in and what we stand for. It's amazing to see the growth that's come to our city. The unity here is just awesome."