It’s a Gay Day in Chicago: Nationwide Rally for Gay Rights

On this chilling November day we make our way to downtown Chicago to join thousands in a demonstration of Democracy: our demand for GLBT civil rights in America. Billed as nationwide Anti-Proposition 8 protests and coordinated by various GLBT rights groups across the country with a speed and accuracy that can only happen in the age of the Internet, we find ourselves surrounded by smiling gay and straight supporters.

In light of the at first depressing, then enraging, ballot initiatives that passed at the same time Barack Obama was elected our 44th President — California’s Proposition 8 Ban on Gay Marriage, Arizona’s Proposition 102 Ban on Gay Marriage, Arkansas Initiative 1: Ban on Gay Couples Adopting Children, and Florida Amendment 2: Ban on Gay Marriage – I’m sure you can imagine how good it feels to be a gay person in downtown Chicago today.

The rally begins at Federal Plaza, and opens with the Windy City Gay Men’s chorus singing songs that we find to be far too tame for the mood we’re in, such as “Down by the Riverside”. Indeed, this song and other echoes of the Civil Rights era resound at this event: “I have a dream, too”, one sign reads. Another sign, appropriating language from the Obama rallies, reads “Change, already!” Someone was circulating Obama stickers which we found to be baffling, post-election. (Hey lady, he won.) Some signs advocate gay marriage, others call for the separation of Church and State.

We stand for nearly an hour and a half, half-listening to various speakers whom we hope to identify later, but we’re much more interested in our fellow man, walking arm-in-arm with one another and smiling at everyone around them. Chilled to the bone with only toast in our bellies, and that was hours ago, we head to the nearby Berghoff for an over-priced Wiener Schnitzel — a poor second to the authentic fare recently experienced in Berlin, that city, in that country, where gays have the civil rights we are fighting for. The lager on tap, at least, is good and fortifying.

We make it back to the demonstration at the perfect moment: the speeches just ended and the marching has begun. And best of all: the crowd has swollen exponentially. And wow, do we march. “Yes, we can!” marchers yell, another tagline from the Obama rallies. As we make our way down major streets in central Chicago in the middle of the group, bringing traffic to a halt, it is pretty evident to us that Mayor Daley has a hand in this march it seems as though the higher-ups are cooperating with the march as it is managed in a very orderly fashion. We are escorted by the police and protected as we spill out into the streets.

It’s a liberating and empowering feeling. We are given access to Chicago’s major downtown streets, including State (where a marcher leans over and says, “So are we all going in to Macy’s to protest its takeover of Marshall Fields?” – it’s a Chicago thing) and Michigan Avenue, where the weekend shoppers stand along the sidewalks and applaud and wave, and while traffic is brought to a halt as the blocks-long marchers pass, nary a taxi horn is sounded against us. The only horns we hear are the “beep beep” of support, some to the rhythm of our chants. People in cars roll down their windows, take pictures with their cell phones and wave. People working weekends at their offices stand in their windows and wave to us, some blow kisses, some post hastily made pro-gay marriage signs to the windows. We wave and shout back to them.

Night – and the temperature — falls quickly in November in this northern city. Hours after the rally began, some demonstrators are slipping away to the nearby subway. Our feet are sore but we aren’t cold, anymore. How can we be, in such a surrounding of warmth and love?