Pride vs. church

By Lauryn Smith

Parade-goers will be celebrating two hours earlier at next year’s Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade—potentially disrupting the services at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, 708 W. Belmont Ave.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church has petitioned against the 43rd annual Pride Parade’s new route and start time for 2012. The route calls for the parade to pass in front of the church. The parade, which normally starts at noon, will start at 10 a.m., an hour before mass begins.

Rev. Thomas Srenn, parade organizer Richard Pfeiffer and Alderman Tom Tunney (44th Ward) are set to meet at an unspecified time during the week of Dec. 12 to discuss the church’s concerns.

“It’s a combination of the new route, which will go directly in front of our church building, with the new time, which is Sunday morning when we have our services,” Srenn said.

The current parade route forms a V shape, heading north on Halsted Street and turning around to head south on Broadway. This creates an area known as “pride island,” in which people are stuck in the area for up to six hours, said Max Bever, director of Communication and Community Outreach for the 44th Ward.

Because of the impracticality of getting a safety vehicle in the area, route changes are needed to decongest the vicinity. The route will also be lengthened by five blocks to spread the crowds. The time changes are to curb the public consumption of alcohol, Bever said.

At the meeting, Srenn said he hopes to learn more about the parade’s history of start times and routes. He said this will help understand why the changes

are necessary.

Srenn is worried the proposed changes will prevent church members from attending mass. Though there have been claims that Srenn is apprehensive regarding damage to the church’s property, he said that issue is of little concern compared to the time and route change.

“There are an anticipated 800,000 people [who] come into the neighborhood on that day, and it becomes nearly impossible to navigate the streets,” Srenn said. “Being on a parade route dramatically impacts the reality for anyone on the route in a different fashion.”

It was not specified what questions will be discussed at the meeting.

“There are a lot of things on the table and we want to know what are the possibilities and what are some of the things we can work with,” Srenn said. “Because we’re all looking for a really safe and enjoyable time for everybody, and we just want to find out if there is another way of possibly doing this.”

The issues that have been raised are “absolutely not” related to the parade’s purpose, he said.

He said he has not spoken directly with parade organizers.

“We arranged a time to speak with them in the beginning,” Srenn said. “I did write a letter to the parade organizers asking for some answers to the questions we have, but I never heard from them.”

He said he heard of the proposed changes in early October, but Pfeiffer claims that organizers were not contacted by anyone from the church until this week.

Pfeiffer says he first found out about the petition against the proposed changes when ABC News contacted him.

“We’re really confused because we heard so many different stories, and we’re not sure where they’re coming from,” Pfeiffer said. “When we do meet, we just want to know exactly what the problem is.”

Bever said that Tunney works closely with parade organizers, including Pfeiffer, regarding parade feedback. Every year, there is a post-Pride Parade meeting with the city agencies, the local chambers of commerce and police and fire departments.

After the 2011 parade, it became clear that “substantial” changes needed to be made in the interest of public safety, according to Bever. Crowd control issues were created after the number of people who attended the parade increased drastically from approximately 450,000 in 2010 to 800,000 in 2011.

The number of accepted entries in the parade is also being reduced from 250 to 200 in order to tighten up the parade so that it is not as long, Pfeiffer said. Last year, the crowds made way into the streets so that the last entries in the parade lineup were unable to move forward.

Pfeiffer and Tunney have met to discuss possible solutions to the proposed changes that would still maintain the public safety while respecting the church’s concerns, Bever said. They are offering to provide barricades and marshals to the church so that people will still be able to attend services.

“There have been other churches on the parade route and its many reiterations [during approximately] 40 years,” Bever said. “Parade organizers were always able to work to compromise.”