Northalsted’s Pride Fest makes space for queer joy

By Maya Swan-Sullivan, Staff Reporter

Nicholas Holman and his boyfriend, Dylan Tipton, stand in front of their art prints set up at a booth along Northalsted’s Pride Fest streets on Saturday, June 17, 2023. Connor Dore

Northalsted’s 22nd annual Pride Fest filled the neighborhood streets with glitter, alluring outfits and vibrant music over the weekend. The festival, held June 17 and 18, created space for LGBTQ+ communities to come together and express themselves freely and confidently, something that has not always been an option — and still isn’t — in many places.

Alan Grigg and Michael Flores, partners from Detroit, said they’ve been coming to Pride events for four decades. “We came out about 10 years after Stonewall. So it’s really important for us to be here,” Flores said.

Under the warm summer sun while wandering the festival, the couple stood a few paces back from the crowds of people, watching in admiration.

“When we were young, we never thought we would have this opportunity,” Grigg said. Flores added, “we always thought we’d have to be cloistered.”

When Grigg first started attending Pride events decades ago, he said it wasn’t safe. It was more defiant and much more political.

“A lot of these kids don’t know the shoulders that they’re standing on. We stood on shoulders that were amazing. And you have to be reminded of that,” Flores said.

When it comes to the progress he’s seen in his lifetime, Flores said it’s “as simple as one guy who was walking by, totally mainstream looking but he had two barrettes in his hair. I just love it. And he was okay.”

Ornnapha Chanswek and Katlyn Sena, a married couple who came from Cincinnati, said in comparison to other Pride events they’ve been to in the past, Chicago’s is more of a celebration.

Chanswek, originally from Thailand, said that even in a major city like Bangkok there are only one or two events a year. “Not a lot of people know about it and they don’t really care about gay people or lesbians,” she said.

Spouses Ornnapha Chansawek and Katlyn Sena stand in the middle of Northalsted’s Pride Fest on Saturday, June 17, 2023. The neighborhood festival is in its 22nd year. Connor Dore

Sena, who is originally from Cincinnati, said that as someone who didn’t realize they were gay until later in life, it’s really important for her to be able to celebrate now.

“I’m just able to be myself and be happy about it rather than be hiding or not even sure about what I am,” she said. “Now I know.”

Nicholas Holman, a painter from St. Louis, said he and his boyfriend are touring different cities during the month of June to sell his prints.

In comparison to other Pride events, Holman said when it comes to Chicago, the biggest difference is size. “The volume, I feel like it’s fucking massive. I like that there’s three stages and like the density is pretty cool and maybe hard to walk, but it’s a really good vibe,” he said.

For Holman, Pride is important because “it’s a moment that you can be your true and authentic self. Know that you’re safe, know that you’re going to be celebrated and feel the same level of importance as the person next to you,” he said.

In addition to the vendor booths, organizations set up tables to promote their mission and resources.

Rain Ramirez, who works for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said they came to the festival to give out information about their organization and help people take care of their sexual health. The foundation has multiple locations throughout Chicago, providing free STD testing to anyone in need.

Ramirez said that, especially now — referring to the national uptick in anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment and legislation — Pride events are a place for the community to come together as a family and celebrate each other.

“I think that we’re in our own little bubble here,” Ramirez said. “So I just think that there is a lot of happiness in the air.”

As Pride events continue to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and how much the culture around their rights has shifted, others find there is still much need for change.

I think we’re getting to a point where people understand its magnitude and how important [celebrating the community] is,” Holman said. “But that’s what our generation is for, right, to keep it going, make it bigger, make it better.”