CHICAGO — On Saturday, October 27th, Human Rights Campaign Chicago held their annual gala and auction at the Chicago Marriott in Downtown Chicago. Despite the masquerade theme of the night, there was no hiding the joy of the guests, volunteers, and staff that attended the event.
According to the HRC Chicago website, this annual gala and auction celebrates the great strides made for LGBTQ equality across the nation, including honoring local leadership excellence.
This year, Indivisible Aurora, a community advocacy group based out of Aurora, Illinois, was recognized for their outstanding effort in bringing the first-ever Pride Parade to the Chicago suburbs with the “Community Equality Award.” Gwyn Ciesla, Co-Chair of Aurora’s Inaugural Pride Parade and Director of LGBTQ and Alliance with Indivisible Aurora, accepted the award.
“I’m not sure that any of us who were involved with the Inaugural Aurora Pride Parade could have imagined that we would be where we are tonight. I mean that literally, but also as a community. We’ve all grown as individuals, and as an organization,” said Ciesla upon accepting the award. “Our teams and their captains did an astonishing amount of work over four short months.”
The idea of hosting Aurora’s Inaugural Pride Parade came in June 2017 as the nation approached the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre. It was Ciesla’s wife, Elisa, who suggested it was time to bring Pride to Aurora.
“Aurora is the second largest city in Illinois, with a diverse population, a growing economy, and even a reawakening downtown, complete with festivals, theater, music, and a wide variety of places to eat and drink… Why no Pride?” Ciesla continued, “Almost immediately, support began to appear. We were contacted by a wide variety of people, eager to volunteer, to march, and to help spread the word… who’d been waiting for something like this for many years.”
The parade efforts weren’t met without resistance, however. There were members of the community who sought to block the approval of the Pride Parade application, and on the day of the Parade, marchers were met with protesters, but only a few.
“People of all ages, sexual and gender identities, faiths and walks of life came, and we had a BLAST. We sang, we danced, we laughed. There were some tears, too,” said Ciesla.
So what’s next for the LGBTQ+ community of Aurora?
The date of Aurora’s second annual Pride Parade has been set for Sunday, June 9, 2019. In addition, the Aurora Pride Parade has expanded into the Aurora Pride Festival which will include activities all weekend long including a speaker series, marketplace, 5K, and more.
“We’ll continue to demonstrate to the members of the Aurora family that all are welcome, and to the city at large, that we are a part of that family. We’ll continue to make home feel more like home,” said Ciesla. “We all appreciate Chicago’s Pride celebration, and it’s certainly a cultural landmark, but it’s important to see support like this in your hometown… there’s no substitute for celebrating Pride at home, with your friends, with your family — whether by blood or by choice — in your own community.”
For more information on the 2019 Aurora Pride Festival, visit AuroraPride.org.by