When I moved to Chicago in 2012, my roommate (and more recently, the Maid of Honor in my wedding) and I settled on an apartment on the North side of the city. Barely a block from the Addison Red Line Station, my means of transportation to my (non-librarian) job in the Loop, our apartment was situated smack dab between Halsted Street and Sheffield Avenue.
If you’re somewhat familiar with the Chicago Cubs, Addison and Sheffield might ring a bell: they are two of the streets that border the Cubs’ home, Wrigley Field (the other two streets being Waveland and Clark). That was a huge reason for our move to this particular location: we were very excited to be part of the sights and sounds of Wrigleyville. We could literally hear game days and concerts from our bedroom windows; it was a dream come true for a girl who bleeds Cubbie blue.
Little did I know that, between Sheffield and Halsted, despite my deep love for Cubs baseball, it was the latter of those two streets that would win my heart. As it turned out, another neighborhood lay to the East of Wrigleyville, one I didn’t know existed until I lived in it: Halsted is the epicenter of Chicago’s gay community and the main drag of Chicago’s Boystown or, as it is oft affectionately called, the “gayborhood.”
Looking for lunch one day, my roommate and I wandered East from our humble abode and stumbled into a rainbow-plastered wonderland of flashy drag shows, quaintly decorated bakeries, cleverly named sex shops, and lunch-special alcoholic slushies. Despite our being straight in every sense of the word, this neighborhood and its residents welcomed us with open arms at all times of the day and night without question and without reservation. The pocket of time during which I first explored Halsted Street and Boystown will forever remain one of the best of my life.
It is during that time, in fact, at a special bar in Boystown where I started talking to the man who would become my husband. And as much as I owe my relationship and my future to this place, I understand so gravely the irony of that situation.
Looking back, it struck me dumb how a community of people discriminated so heavily against were so quick to turn around and do the exact opposite. These people, this community, they know who they are, they love it, and they are delighted to share it with you. Life in your early 20s is about finding yourself, and part of that is finding the type of people you want to emulate. I was lucky enough, at the age of 23, to find them. I wanted to emulate this community’s openness, tenacity, and, to use the perfect word, pride. In return, I make it a point to be their advocate and to share heartily in their joys and their woes.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but the events of Pride quickly became mainstays in my city life. To this day I look forward to that week of June beginning with Pride Fest and ending with the Pride Parade; events that still take place just blocks from where I live. Although Boystown (like many neighborhoods in cities around the country) is more or less a safe space for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, I understand why Pride is so important: it is a time when all people in this community can celebrate themselves despite what the rest of the world might think.
And what the world thinks is still changing so drastically. Last year, I found myself in San Francisco for the Pride Parade and joyously celebrated marriage equality in what is arguably the most thriving gay community in the nation. This year, just two weeks after a woeful massacre at a gay Orlando nightclub, the deadliest mass shooting in the United States to date, I celebrated the same enduring strength that won me over and continues astonish and inspire me.
And so this post is my way of saying thank you to this community, and openly celebrating them in a shadow of what they truly deserve; to share with them and with others my unabashed admiration of their gumption; to shine light on the long road they have already travelled, and to show what a long road still lay ahead. Perhaps the way the way I have been inspired can inspire others to advocate for this community and accept it as they themselves accept all. Because they deserve love, they deserve respect, they deserve community, and they deserve pride -not just one week in June, but every damn day.
So please, whatever you identify as, do your best to celebrate everyone and who they are -with pride- every damn day. Who knows: it might just become the norm. And how special would that be?