Police watch over a Pride celebration in Lakeview. Credit: Sun-Times

If you were celebrating Pride last Sunday night, you may have been forced to cancel your plans and head home early. For the past 48 years, queer people and their allies have commemorated the 1969 Stonewall riots every June with marches, parades, and bar crawls through gay neighborhoods. The riots themselves were a reaction of transgender and gay people to the constant police raids on their bars and are considered the landmark event that sparked the LGBTQ radical liberation movement and its subsequent parades. But this year, police successfully shut down postparade celebrations at many bars beginning around 10:30 PM, according to several witnesses and bar employees.

The police targeted a specific section of Boystown: Halsted between Addison and Belmont between Halsted and Sheffield, ending at the gay dance club Berlin. According to interviews with ten managers and bartenders, some of these bars agreed with the early shutdowns and even closed their own doors before the police asked. Other bar owners, especially those of bars that close at 4 AM, said the shutdown resulted in hours of profits lost.

Michael Carroll, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, said the only reason the police would shut down bars is because of concern for public safety when there is overcrowding. But compared to similar large events, such as the Cubs’ World Series win in 2016, the shutdown raises questions as to whether there is a double standard for Pride.

After the Cubs won the seventh game of the World Series in Cleveland in 2016, Wrigleyville was understandably raucous. Police shut down vehicle traffic in the area as fans took to the streets. It wasn’t too long before some were hanging from streetlights, setting fires in trash cans, shattering windows, and breaking into buildings in order to take the party to the rooftops. One car was even shot three times, according to news accounts at the time. Police cut off foot traffic into the Clark strip of sports bars so the area would become an “exit only” zone. But the bars for the most part raged on. Some bumped their cover charges to $100. A couple were forced to close by police due to overcapacity, but the majority of them stayed open until their scheduled closing time.

The 2018 post-Pride celebration went differently. There were the same barricades and a similar amount of arrests (a record low this year of approximately 15, police said, in comparison to 21 after the World Series win; in previous years, the number of Pride arrests has been much higher, peaking at 52 in 2015). And yet many bars were not allowed to continue business.

Alderman Tom Tunney’s office couldn’t immediately say why the bar closures took place this year.

These early closures have happened at past LGBTQ-focused events. Two years ago, police officers asked the organizers at Pride at Montrose, the kickoff event of Black Pride, to turn off the music, effectively putting an end to the event. There were similar gay-bar shutdowns in 2003.

The bar owners and employees were anticipating possible early closures this year; in 2017, the police began shutting down bars after midnight. But they said they didn’t expect the shutdowns to happen as early as they did, between 10:30 and 11:30 PM.

Roscoe’s, a popular gay bar in Boystown, was closed at 10:30 PM by the police, who abruptly turned on the lights and told everyone to leave, said owner Jim Ludwig. Ludwig believes the police targeted the wrong crowd of partygoers—he thinks the problem comes from an invasion of people from outside the queer community who prefer to drink in the streets after the parade rather than enter the bars. “But the police have a mind-set that the bars contribute to this,” he says. “So they’re dumping those orderly patrons into the street. It’s anti-hospitality and counterproductive to the community and our celebration of our culture.”

Another Boystown bar manager, who asked not to be named, said that before this year’s Pride festivities, the police department held a community meeting with bar managers and owners at which officers explained that this year the department would have the largest street team for Pride yet and that the majority of the budget would be allocated to police and safety for the people outside the bars on the street. “There was enough police and security to handle these loitering situations,” the manager says, “but most would agree that [police] were just tired of it, said we had enough fun, and closed the strip down.” This manager says he was told by the officer who shut down his bar, “I’m sure most of you bars made enough money by now, there’s no reason to stay open any longer.”

Street traffic was shut down in Wrigleyville after the big Cubs victory. But the night after the parade, one Boystown restaurant employee, Clement Wink, says she and a group of Pride pedestrians trying to leave the neighborhood stepped off the crowded sidewalk into the street and were told by a police officer to “walk on the sidewalk like normal people.”

While the Pride Parade does bring in good profits for the LGBTQ bar community, the Chicago Police Department’s move to close gay bars far earlier than sports bars limits not only the profits made, but can also be seen as limiting the social value of the people in the queer community. As queer patrons now see their establishments being policed more closely than others, there is a sense that their spaces are less safe than before. Their identities, communities, and fun nights out might be perceived as less valued.

While the hard-fought battles since Stonewall have given LGBTQ people many rights they’d never had in the U.S. before, as longtime Chicago activist Rick Garcia says, “What the government giveth, the government can taketh away.”

Many activists view these early closures as a symptom of a larger problem: a parade that commemorates a riot against police brutality is led by uniformed police officers riding in their police cars, armed with guns. The Stonewall riots were led by transgender women of color, a community disproportionately targeted and murdered by cops nationwide. Recent boycotts of police inclusion at Pride events have taken place in major cities such as Seattle, Phoenix, New York City, and D.C., as well as here in Chicago. The hashtag #NoJusticeNoPride has spread word of these events, which call for de-policing Pride, or at the very least, for cops to march out of uniform and unarmed. This would be a good compromise between allowing police to be present while also allowing  minorities consistently oppressed by the police to feel safe. Though some might argue that armed officers are there for attendees’ own safety, disarming cops would show respect for the queer people of color who attend the event, given their understandable discomfort standing in a crowd controlled by police officers.

The irony of police presence and control at Pride celebrations can be lost on both queer people and their allies, some of whom know very little about queer history. One year away from the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the purpose of Pride celebrations can be lost on the masses. But when we look at the history books, the battle to gain rights has often moved forward by keeping cops in check.