Chicago: Queer Kind of Town

by Shaker Sarah in Chicago

So, what did you do on Saturday?

I was standing outside in downtown Chicago, in high 30's F temps, with light snow falling, shouting and protesting in a country that's not even my own.

Seriously, I know, I'm nuts :)

I submitted a large draft of my dissertation proposal late Friday afternoon, so Saturday midday, I turned up with friends in Daley Plaza for the National Day of Protest, where simultaneously, all across the country, 8.30am HST, 9.30am AST, 10.30am PST, 11.30am MST, 12.30pm CST, and 1.30pm EST, queers and our allies protested against Proposition 8, the bigotry in California, and for our equal rights more generally.



There were thousands and thousands and thousands of people there ... so many they had to shut down Adams street next to the Plaza, so people wouldn't be driven over by cars. There were about an hour and a half of speeches, yelling, and cheering (and a bit of booing and catcalling at the half-dozen pro-hate douches protesting across from us). Btw, speeches included Catherine DeBuono and her girlfriend Jill Bennett from (who I have to say, are SERIOUSLY just as gorgeous in person as they are online).



After that hour and a half, there were growing calls more and more for a march, and the organisers said we were going to walk down the Millennium Park (right down where the Loop meets Lake Michigan, surrounded like Central Park is in NYC by insanely tall sky-scrapers).


However, just before we got to the entry to the Park, we did a bait-and-switch on the police (sorry guys! but the mounted-police were awesome, and totally on our side, protecting us from traffic), hanging a hard-left, and going off the sidewalks (where the police had forced us to be), filling up the streets, crossing back down through the loop, shutting down traffic, over State Street, down to LaSalle, across Federal Plaza, spilling across back down Randolph, and then turning onto State, shutting down EVERYTHING as thousands and thousands of screaming and chanting queers and allies marched through the city, with people coming out of buildings and clapping, smiling, laughing, giving us the thumbs-up and dancing from their multi-level offices.


We continued up State Street onto Upper Wacker Drive (btw, the latest two Batman movies were filmed on Lower Wacker, beneath us ... just for geek-info), along the banks of the Chicago River to Michigan Ave, the 'Magnificant Mile', where we turned north, into the most prestigious shopping district in all of Chicago-land.


At the top of Michigan Ave, a stretch SUV limo stopped, stuck in all the traffic we had brought to a stand-still. And the doors opened, and a newly wed bride and groom, heterosexual couple got out and started dancing with us, hooting and chanting, grabbing banners and yelling in support ... the press corps along with us went nuts with the cameras, and the couple got high-fives, hugs and so many smiles and laughter! They waved as they hopped back into their limo ...

I don't know who you both are, and I guess I'll probably never meet you again ... but to that couple, thank you so much, so incredibly much, for realising how much your wedding at that moment meant, and what it meant to us, and what having you come support us would mean ... just, thank you.


So yes, eventually the police worked out what we were doing, and at the end of Michigan Ave they blocked the entire street off with police-cars and individual officers, preventing us from getting on Lake Shore Drive, the express-way running up the lake-front of Chicago, where we would have caused HUGE traffic problems. This, there on the Gold Coast, was where me and my friends peeled off, exhausted, as it was almost 4pm by this time, and ... well, we needed Starbucks ... we are gay, after all :)

But that protest was incredible ... utterly incredible. I've never experienced anything like it. At the same time as people were simply angry ... I mean, quite pissed off ... it was welcoming, and happy (hell, initially the march even had a soundtrack ... we're so gay, lol). And there were over a million people across the country doing this at EXACTLY THE SAME TIME.

A couple of the speakers in the Plaza mentioned that this might be the second Stonewall ... and it may very well be. I've never seen the like. So much support from those that lined the march, people running out of building to join us. Even those stuck in traffic were honking their horns, not in frustration, but in support, as they smiled and laughed.

If this continues, if this motivation moves ... well, the Mormon Church, the Evangelical Organisations, they have woken us, and something that was slowly, progressively happening, yet inevitably, will have turned into a rush, a wave, because you cannot demean us like this, you cannot take our rights away. We have had enough, and we refuse to be quiet and submissive anymore.

Cathy DeBuono said something in her speech ... that we'd gotten used to being tolerated, to the point where it was something we considered our usual, normal, existence ... that people would tolerate our lives, tolerate our families, tolerate our love. So long as we shut up, and didn't want to be whole people in our lives, in our own societies, we would be tolerated, and allowed to have bits and pieces of equality.

No more.

We're done with being tolerated.

And this was organised in a week. Welcome to the 21st Century.


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