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Illinois State alumni Dana Niswonger '19 leads the Illinois State University group at the Chicago Pride Parade.

Illinois State alumna Dana Niswonger '19 (with flag) leads the Illinois State University group at the Chicago Pride Parade.

Illinois State pride on parade in Chicago

Over 20 alumni, staff, and friends marched as part of the Illinois State University LGBTQA Alumni Network contingent on Sunday in the 50th annual Pride Parade in Chicago. Rainbow-themed outfits, flags, and fans, and bright colored balloons filled the streets as loud music played in the background. The chanting of “I-S-U” could be heard coming from the crowd of hundreds of thousands who lined the streets in support of the LGBTQA community as Illinois State’s float made its way along the route.

First-time parade participant Dana Niswonger ’19, who will be a biotechnology graduate student this fall, led the Illinois State float waving a 4-foot-long Illinois State Pride flag in the air. “My reaction to the crowd cheering ‘I-S-U’ was to swing the flag around more and hype up the crowd. Seeing so many alumni and students cheering for us also made me feel like I was a part of something bigger, something more, in a way I never quite have before participating in the parade,” she said.

The 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots presented an opportunity for Illinois State to do something special by participating in the parade and to reconnect with alumni from the Chicago area. Illinois State was placed among other universities in Illinois in the parade and marched 66th of 163 floats.

“Walking in a parade (for the first time) to celebrate with the people in my community, being ourselves, going against the norm, and fighting for who we are is exhilarating,” said Rocky Roque ’19, who will be a communications graduate student this fall. “There were many members of the community being themselves unapologetically, which gave me the comfort to own my identity as well and just be me.”

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This year marked the second time Illinois State has organized a group to walk in the parade. The first group of approximately six people walked in the late-1990s in Chicago.

“These parades are inclusive, educational, radical, cultural, and downright fun,” Roque said. “They give a voice to those that are continuously being silenced. They are a home place to all the outsiders, but most importantly Pride Parades are the celebration of all our accomplishments and histories our community has overcome.”

On Saturday afternoon, a reception was held in the Chicago Alumni Office where attendees enjoyed refreshments, made signs to carry in the parade, and heard updates from staff about the University.

Check out more photos from the Chicago Pride Parade and alumni reception on the Illinois State University Flickr page. If you would like to connect with LGBTQA alumni, contact the LGBTQA Alumni Network through its homepage or on Facebook.