BERWYN – As an openly gay man, Gary Lennon often thinks back to the days when he, his friends and many members of the LGBTQ community were discriminated.
They often feared going out, and walking side-by-side with their partners in public seemed unimaginable. Lennon still remembers a time when Boystown – a Chicago neighborhood billed as an LGBTQ-friendly area – was dangerous.
“I used to worry about walking down Broadway or Halsted, and if a car was zooming by, you didn’t know if you were going to have a bottle thrown at you or a brick,” he said of growing up in the 1980s.
It’s memories like those that give more meaning to Gary’s Pride Walk, an event that he created a couple of years ago for the city of Berwyn. What began as an impromptu gathering for friends and family at a local hotspot has grown into a full-fledged effort to share a message of love, hope and equality and to create safe spaces.
“It means community,” said Lennon, who lives in Stickney and is an older brother of First Ward Berwyn Alderman Scott Lennon. “It means freedom. It means being comfortable.”
This year’s Pride Walk takes place at 2 p.m. June 29 and starts at James Joyce Irish Pub, 7138 W. Windsor Ave. The march will proceed to the Depot District and end with a ceremony at Karasek Park, 6844 W. Windsor Ave. After the annual event, attendees are invited to an after-party at Lavergne’s Tavern, 6546 W. Windsor Ave.
Three years in, Lennon continues to reflect on how the walk has transformed into a tradition, drawing in hundreds of LGBTQ community members and allies from across the Chicago suburbs. On a more personal note, he said, hosting this march in Berwyn, which has offered nothing but support, has been a blessing.
Through his work, he has been able to offer a way to strengthen and spotlight the LGBTQ community and partnering local organizations. Beyond that, Lennon has had the chance, the honor to celebrate Pride with his brother, who is also gay. Together, they have become champions for living comfortably and freely.
“In this day and age, especially right now with everything that’s going on in the country, you have to keep that momentum growing,” Lennon said.
In 2017, the Berwyn City Council named June as Pride Month. The following year, city officials dubbed October as LGBTQ History Month. They’ve also partnered with Northalsted Market Days, a Chicago street festival held in August in the historic Boystown/Lakeview community.
Being present, promoting education and offering a network of resources are just some of the ways Berwyn has remained active, Scott Lennon said.
“I’m proud to live in Berwyn because it’s a very open community,” he said, adding that he and his partner have been residents for almost two decades.
On the same day as the Pride Walk, the Berwyn United Neighborhood Gay and Lesbian Organization – otherwise known as BUNGALO – invite guests to the Pride in the Park Picnic from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Proksa Park, 3001 Wisconsin Ave.
For Scott Lennon, seeing local groups in Berwyn come together is a heartwarming experience. He added that the Berwyn Park District, the public library and several small businesses have helped bring Pride Month into fruition. At City Hall and at the park district, a rainbow flag flies from the pole, a stark symbol of progress.
“The message that I push everyday is for us to feel safe in a neighborhood, for us to be able to live in a safe environment where we can be ourselves, and the city of Berwyn allows us to do that,” he said.
If you go
What: Pride Walk
When: 2 to 5 p.m. June 29
Where: James Joyce Irish Pub, 7138 W. Windsor Ave.
Info: Search “Berwyn’s 3rd Annual Pride Walk 2019” on Facebook