A handmade sign advertises the $20 entrance fee.

Pride North illegally charged a $20 entrance fee to the festival on Sunday, city officials say, drawing ire from a queer community that was desperate to celebrate in person after more than a year of pandemic restrictions.

Pride North, though not the city’s principal Pride celebration, advertises itself as “the North Side’s largest neighborhood pride party.” Organized by Colm Treacy, who owns local watering hole The Glenwood, Pride North was advertised on its website and Facebook page as free, but event staff demanded the entrance fee on Sunday, the last day of the event. While a Pride North sign on Saturday advertised a $20 suggested donation, a new, handmade sign appeared on Sunday with “$20. Thank you” written in marker.

Forty-ninth Ward alderwoman Maria Hadden broadcast live on Facebook Sunday night to assure residents that the entrance fee was indeed illegal, as the festival occurs on public streets that cannot be cordoned off. Jamey Lundblad, chief marketing officer at the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, confirmed that festivals held on public land are allowed to collect money from attendees, but only as a suggested donation, not a required fee. Hadden said in the video that her office had received numerous complaints about the fee.

“[Treacy’s] organized this for multiple years,” Hadden tells the Reader. “He knows the rules and either he gave different directions to people or he didn’t give clear directions and couldn’t control or manage his staff.”

Hadden says she repeatedly spoke to Treacy, who she says denied charging the fees. She says multiple residents called 311, and that Chicago police officers spoke with event workers twice on Sunday about the fees. Despite all the complaints, however, social media users remarked that signs advertising the fee were still up as late as 8 PM, two hours before the event was scheduled to end. When I tried to enter the festival on Sunday, I was told that the $20 fee was required to enter. The woman taking money said organizers just simply “forgot to update the website.”

Treacy and Pride North did not respond to multiple requests for comment before press time.

Critics blasted the event and its organizers on social media, with some calling for Treacy to lose his permit for the event going forward. Hadden says she will take the issue to the city’s department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and its Business Affairs and Consumer Protection department, which she says could levy fines against Treacy.

“This is gonna put any permit applications by this organizer under intense scrutiny,” she says.

While the move was on its face a violation of city rules, many critics also blasted Pride North for actions that they say ran afoul of the spirit of the event.

Pride festivals across the country are grappling with accusations of commodification and corporatization—and for similarly ignoring the roots of the celebrations. Pride originally began as a way to remember the Stonewall Riots of 1969, sparked by homophobic and transphobic police brutality during a bar raid in New York City. But profit-driven actions like what transpired at Pride North have increasingly come under scrutiny amid discussions over the role of Pride in the modern age. Many cities across the country, including Chicago, have held protests and parades to “reclaim” the spirit of Pride.

But Hadden reassured those who felt excluded or exploited. “Anyone can organize a festival, and maybe this particular festival needs new organizers,” Hadden says. “I would encourage people who are interested, if you’re in the 49th Ward, contact my office. No one person owns pride.”   v

UPDATE: Treacy denied the bulk of Hadden’s claims, particularly that anyone other than her had complained. He says that multiple signs referred to the fee as a suggested donation. I didn’t see those signs at the Morse Avenue entrance when I was turned away from the festival around 1 PM on Sunday.

Treacy also claims he removed the handmade sign around 1 PM after Hadden’s initial complaint, though many commented on the sign on social media after that time.