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Marching for Pride

Parker Walks for the First time at the Chicago Pride Parade

Sophomores Senna Gardener and Abri Berg, fourth grade teacher Miriam Pickus, upper school math teacher Chris Riff, and other members of the Parker community march in the Chicago Pride Parade.

Sophomores Senna Gardener and Abri Berg, fourth grade teacher Miriam Pickus, upper school math teacher Chris Riff, and other members of the Parker community march in the Chicago Pride Parade.

Photo by Grace Buono

Photo by Grace Buono

Sophomores Senna Gardener and Abri Berg, fourth grade teacher Miriam Pickus, upper school math teacher Chris Riff, and other members of the Parker community march in the Chicago Pride Parade.

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On June 25, with 250,000 others, 50 Parker teachers, students, alumni, and friends, marched side by side from Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood to Lincoln Park in the 48th annual Chicago Pride Parade. Organized by Upper School science teacher Ryan Zaremba, Nick Saracino, and members of the administration, Parker was one of five schools to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community in the parade.

The parade began at noon and marchers gathered at the corner of Broadway and Montrose to find their spot in the line-up. The parade traveled south on Broadway, turned south on Halsted, next east on Diversity, and ended at Cannon Drive. Parker students ranging from lower school into the high school waved banners, showed off their rainbow colors, and passed out Parker-pride-swag to the energetic and colorful crowd who lining the sidewalks.

The idea was generated at the LGBT staff faculty meeting when attending faculty were generating ideas on how to be more visible in the Parker community. This faculty group meets only once or twice a year and otherwise connects through emails. “This was an idea I had had, and I’d never done anything like it, so I threw it out there, kinda like a shot in the dark,” Zaremba said. “Everybody seemed to like the idea, so I did my research, and I was able to get entered in there.”

After meeting with the administration and getting the go-ahead, Zaremba found preparing for the parade to be a fairly easy job. “We just had to contact the parade organizers, fill out an entry form and send them our entry fee,” Zaremba said. “My piece was fairly simple– I was the point person.”

Zaremba originally thought of the idea to attend the parade while thinking back on other schools he had seen marching. “Whenever I would go to the parades, I would see the schools marching, and I thought it was so cool,” Zaremba said. “Before Parker, I had never worked at a school that would even consider doing anything like this. I think I jumped on this with excitement because I know that Parker would support this and promote it and would be happy to put their name in the parade.”

When Zaremba first met with Assistant Principal Ruth Jurgensen, her immediate response was yes. “My former school, Little Red School House and Elizabeth Irwin High School in New York City, had always participated in the parades, and we were one of the first schools to actually have a float in the parade,” Jurgensen said. “New York’s parade is probably world famous after the Stonewall Riots.”

Jurgensen’s quick response was all driven by Parker’s mission. “Its mission related– here we are at a progressive school, and it surprised me that we didn’t already have formal participation, so it’s a natural fit for us as a school.”

Approving the parade was an easy fit for the Parker community in Jurgensen’s mind. “It’s a no brainer to me,” Jurgensen said. “It’s just the mission coming alive.”

At the parade participants had feelings about why Parker is marching in the parade was a step forward for the school. Senior Karoli Esparza attended the parade to show her support for the LGBTQ+ community. “I think it’s really important for schools to come out and show that they’re a safe zone for kids who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community,” Esparza said. “I just think it shows that for other schools, who are maybe on the fence about certain things like that, it’s an example that everybody should be accepted.”

Another marcher, Upper School math teacher Robert Wilson, also saw the parade as an extension of Parker’s mission. “I think when you’re looking to be a more global community, you need to embrace all members of the community,” Wilson said, “and I think this is a way for them to actually do that.”

While Parker is certainly not the first school to join the Pride Parade, Wilson feels it can still have a meaningful impact. “I think that private schools have more latitude to do this than a CPS school, but they’re certainly not a trend setter,” Wilson said. “I hope that it’s a way for more schools to feel like they can get involved. I think it’s important to get to the youth and show them that Chicago cares and that you matter and that there’s a place for you.”

Come the day of the parade, all different members from Parker’s community came to show their support. Armed with Parker Pride rainbow t-shirts, blue pencils to hand out to the crowd, and swag-bags, the only thing missing from the parade was a single member from the administration. “So that would have been nice to see– to see more of the administrative people there,” Zaremba said. “But I knew behind the scenes, it was one of these things that was in the middle of June, just at the beginning of summer, and honestly people already have plans. I get that, but in the future, it would be really nice to see more administrative people there.”

Jurgensen, a key player throughout the whole planning process of the Pride Parade, was unable to attend, like other administrative faculty, due to its timing. “For me, I just wasn’t available– it was certainly a timing issue, and I can look back at when I first met with Ryan regarding our participation,” Jurgensen said. “It turned around very quickly. As far as I can recall, and I can look at vacation schedules too, we were just all out of town for whatever reason.”

Jurgensen’s absence at Parker’s spot in the 2017 Pride Parade was not, however, indication of her indifference. “I’ve participated in Pride Parades in the past, and you can find photographs of me at parades in the past, so it’s certainly not indicative of the administration’s support of such a thing,” Jurgensen said. “We intended to attend next year and now we know the date.”

In the future, the administration says they will support any cause that relates to Parker’s mission. “Anything related to the mission is something that we’ll represent, particularly if it captures JK-12,” Jurgensen said. “And the Pride Parade does.”

For Zaremba, he’s looking forward to attending the parade with Parker again in 2018. “I’ve gotten emails and calls from alumni to parents,” Zaremba said. “They thought it was wonderful. I think it’s one of these things that can be divisive in a community, and it was wonderful to see the support from the community.”

Zaremba would like to see similar results in the years to follow. Zaremba said, “We’re really forward to doing it next year and increasing our contingency.”

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Marching for Pride