Chicago’s Pride celebrations kick off at Navy Pier

CHICAGO -- Chicago's big Pride Parade is Sunday, but the biggest Pride event outside of Lakeview was already underway at Navy Pier Saturday.

This was the second year for Navy Pier's Pride celebration, a day of family-friendly fun and live music that brings thousands to the city's most-visited attraction.

“We want to celebrate diversity, inclusiveness, respect and tolerance for everybody," said Payal Patel, Navy Pier spokesperson.

But this year, organizers brought a message and a memory to the event. The 48,000 Chicago-centric panels of the AIDS quilt are on display, as health groups set up booths along the pier offering free HIV tests.

“It’s pretty powerful to see who’s lost their lives from something that’s impacted the world," said Victor Thompson.

Lia Stokes of Howard Brown Health says is worried that there's a sense that the AIDS crisis is over, and she's warning young people not to let down their guard.

“AIDS is a worldwide epidemic," Stokes said. “There is a very high rate of HIV with African-American women of color, so by taking this medication we try to help eradicate that.”

Thompson visited the quilt before heading to the Pride celebration, and says it’s a stark reminder of the struggles of the LGBTQ community from the recent past.

“We’ve come far, but we still have far to go,” Thompson said.

Recent statistics from the Chicago Health Department show black heterosexual women make up a disproportionate amount of new and prevalent HIV infections, though not nearly as many as gay/bisexual and other male-to-male sexual transmission.

“It’s important because this is something that our community has struggled with in the past, and it’s a great thing to push ourselves forward and know our status and where we are and make sure we’re our own advocates for our own health," said Antonio Elizondo, CDC Coordinator Howard Brown Health.

Health advocates hope their message doesn't get lost in the parade of color.