From left to right: Crystal Guerra, Jackie Paz, Yessica Vargas and Cristalc before kicking off East Side’s first-ever Pride parade. Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago

EAST SIDE — The chant kicked off East Side’s first-ever Pride parade: “I’m Black, I’m Brown, I’m queer, I’m proud!”

At the corner of South Indianapolis Avenue and East 100th Street, community members gathered to encourage greater queer visibility in East Side.

Clad in rainbow colors, about 40 people walked and 20 more drove in celebration on Friday. Passersby honked to display solidarity, and neighbors came to their doors and storefronts to cheer along.

With a rainbow painted on his face, 4-year-old Gionne waved a Pride flag. Others rode skateboards, while young Zoey opted for her hoverboard and a pink sign displaying “Love Is Love.” LGBTQ students from George Washington High School took the mic to share their experiences of coming out. They referred to the event as a “joyful resistance.”

Gionne, age 4, proudly displays his rainbow flag. Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago

With the annual Chicago Pride Parade pushed back to October, grassroots organizations on the Far Southeast Side took matters into their own hands. The group Bridges // Puentes Justice Collective of the Southeast wanted to recognize Pride Month within the predominantly Latinx community.

For many lifelong residents, East Side’s first Pride marks a generational turning point in neighborhood attitudes and acceptance.

“When I saw East Side was having a Pride march, I was just like ‘No way, I’ve never seen this before,’” said Jackie Paz, 22. “To see Pride happening here, I think it’s a very big thing. Because it shows we’re not invisible here, that we need to be seen now.”

Zoey maintains her balance while supporting East Side Pride. Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago

Isis Bazaldua, a member of the Bridges Puentes group, served as the lead organizer for the event. Growing up in East Side, Bazaldua was outed twice in school and subjected to bullying, death threats and sexual harassment. Backed by their community, Bazaldua, now 22, felt comfortable openly identifying as non-binary this year. They are excited to see their alma mater Washington High School now has a LGBTQIA Club.

“We want to show kids that we are going to celebrate being queer,” Bazaldua said. “That East Side is loving and wants to accept everyone for who they are.”

Isis Bazaldua, a non-binary member of Bridges Puentes, led the parade on Friday. Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago

Puentes organizer Samuel Corona was handled logistics for the parade route. Corona has a transgender son and was exposed to the struggles of closeted people while serving in the military. He said that LGBTQ East Siders have often been erased by religious and cultural expectations of “normal.”

“People used to say: We’re as rough and tough as the steel that we pumped out of these steel mills. But because of that image, we were always told there’s a certain traditional lifestyle we must live to,” Corona said. “Now we’re telling you that you have roots here in East Side. You have allies.”

Corona and other organizers hope East Side Pride will become an annual event, allowing queer residents to feel comfortable at home in their neighborhood — for at least one day a year. 

Jackie Paz waves her Pride flag while her East Side neighbors cheer from their doorsteps. Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago

“It’s been acceptable for so long for there to be an event on the North Side,” Corona said. “But why do our own community members have to hide out here, and only be proud out there?”

The parade stopped for a dance party at the intersection of East 106th Street and South Ewing Avenue, before concluding at Crow Bar, where all were treated to chicken wings and a live performance from Puentes rapper/singer Cristalc.

“I’m here for the gay,” Cristalc declared at the start of her set. “I have a lot of songs, but I picked my gayest ones.”  

Cristalc ran through three tracks: “Gentlemen,” “Libido’s Hum” and a remix of Yo Gotti’s “Down In the DM.”

“He can touch a dude, she can touch a girl, we can touch whoever we want to!” Cristalc sang.

Cristalc performs family friendly versions of her sexual liberation songs at Crow Bar in East Side. Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago

East Side Pride served as a celebration of progress — as well as remembrance for those who have died in incidents of anti-LGBTQ hate.

Bazaldua noted that their community still has major strides to make toward true inclusion. They hope young kids will see the event and know there is an emerging generation in East Side that is energized to make them feel seen. 

“We are unapologetically queer, and we don’t care what people think,” Bazaldua said as they addressed the crowd. “And we want our youth to know we stand here today welcoming.”

Credit: Mack Liederman/Block Club Chicago

Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Already subscribe? Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.