Nettelhorst Elementary School parent Amy Goodman prepares a wagon for the 40th annual Pride Parade with daughter Sadie Blade, 3, while son Ben Blade, 6, plays in their home. (Tribune photo by Phil Velasquez / June 24, 2009)
The black metal fence in front of Nettelhorst Elementary School is obscured by thousands of strips of dyed fabric -- yellows giving way to greens, then blues, purples and reds -- each one tied on by the small hands of a student.
The ruffled, waist-high rainbow is a symbol of the school's solidarity with its east Lakeview community, and a sign hanging by the gate trumpets that Nettelhorst this year "will be the first Chicago public school to march in the city's gay pride parade."
"We believe family means everybody," the sign reads.
Amy Goodman agrees with that. She'll be in the parade at noon Sunday with her husband, towing their 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter in a wagon bedecked in rainbows.
Brad Rossi agrees as well. He'll be there with his partner and their 7-year-old daughter, along with more than 50 other families from Nettelhorst whose presence marks the latest expansion of a parade that began in the 1970s with drag queens and gay activists and has grown to reveal the full spectrum of the city's diverse gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
In this, the 40th annual Pride Parade, there will be gay Democrats and gay Republicans, gay business people and gay artists, seniors and teens and Christians and veterans -- and, as always, drag queens and activists.
"We've never had a grammar school, or a school for that matter," said Richard Pfeiffer, who has coordinated the parade since 1974. "The remarkable thing about the gay pride parade is that it's the one day that you get that full cross-section of the GLBT community. We're young, we're old and a growing portion of our community now has children. And I think that has often gone unnoticed."
That's why the Nettelhorst contingent will be near the front.
"I love that my kids will understand that there are all different kinds of families," Goodman said. "When it comes to any kind of differences, I think the only way to really realize how much we have in common is to celebrate and acknowledge our differences."
Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Monique Bond stressed that Nettelhorst was not "officially involved" with the decision to enter the parade. Parents, both gay and straight, organized the school's entry, viewing it as an important statement to make in a community with a large GLBT population.
"One of the fundamental tenets of being a community school is that you bring the community in," said Jacqueline Edelberg, author of a book about Nettelhorst -- "How to Walk to School: Blueprint for a Neighborhood School Renaissance" -- and a straight mother of two Nettelhorst students.
More than 500 students attend the elementary school. While there's no official number, Rossi and other parents say they know of at least eight same-sex couples with children enrolled at the school, which suggests that most of the Nettelhorst people marching will be straight.
"For the vast majority of parents who have come up to me, people have been really excited about it," said Marcia Festen, a lesbian whose eldest daughter attends Nettelhorst. "I had one parent come up and say, 'Oh my God, I don't think the school should be doing this and it's not a proper venue for kids.' But it's actually been a little shocking that the conversation has been so positive."
One conservative blogger from Rogers Park denounced the school's parade plans, and a group of Baptist protesters set up one day outside the school. But many parents, both straight and gay, say the reaction has been surprisingly muted.
Modesto Tico Valle, executive director of the Center on Halsted, a GLBT community center, said each year more and more of the gay and lesbian community has felt comfortable showing its face. Now seeing families from a public school join together as a single parade entry doesn't surprise him.
"It's like a domino effect," Valle said. "Once this parade had picked up some clout and became very large, the politicians decided, 'Oh, maybe I need to pay attention to this constituency.' Then we started having news stations involved. The more we advance in our movement, the more people wake up and say, 'These are human beings just like you and I. Let's give them some respect and attention.' "
Rossi finds the support of other families from his child's school heartening. Taking a break from painting parade banners this week, sitting not far from the fabric-covered fence at Nettelhorst, the 44-year-old thought back on his youth and how differently gays and lesbians were viewed.
As much as things have changed, he still worries that his daughter, Maria, could get picked on because her family is different:
"We can sit around and wait, and if something happens, we jump up and down and say, 'This is an outrage.' Or we can let people know we're out here, so it eventually isn't even a thing.
"So Maria has two dads? Big deal."
[link to www.chicagotribune.com