BOLINGBROOK — A Pride Fest packed with extra meaning is what’s happening this weekend in Bolingbrook, Chicago’s third-most diverse suburb.
Yes, the main focus is celebrating the Pride season that commemorates the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. But equally important at this weekend’s festival: a mass marriage ceremony for LGBTQ+ couples seeking to tie the knot, and a fundraiser for a dog rescue group helping to deal with America’s puppy mill problem.
Bolingbrook Pride Picnic and Puppies is noon to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Bolingbrook Town Center, 375 W. Briar Cliff Rd. In addition to its extra themes of animal welfare and marriage equality, the event strives to reach a new level of “family-friendliness” and diversity, featuring an array of kids’ games, a bookmobile, a transgender clothing closet and exchange, and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream including vegan flavors.
This is the third annual Pride event for Bolingbrook Pride, a nonprofit that also has started a monthly drop-in center for LGBTQ youth in Bolingbrook and Romeoville.
Bolingbrook Pride helps call attention to Paws Up 4 Rescue and puppy mill problems
Paws Up 4 Rescue-Joliet will be a key part of Bolingbrook’s Puppies & Pride Celebration Saturday. The Joliet, Ill., nonprofit will be on hand with some of the animals it is fostering
Paws Up focuses on helping to find foster homes for dogs rescued from “puppy mills,” the term for dog breeders who force animals to reproduce in inhumane and sometimes dangerous conditions. Bans on the sale of dogs from puppy mills, like the ban that Illinois now has in place, have created a flood of pregnant dogs from puppy mills, says Paws Up leader Terri DeGrado.
“They’re dumping moms, puppies, and some are going out of business,” DeGrado says. “Because of the lack of veterinary services during COVID, a lot of dogs were not spayed or neutered, plus the southern states have an issue with spaying and neutering. So there’s an overabundance of dogs and puppies…. . Dogs are beingeutnaized in the south in huge numbers, and there’s not enough room up here.”
DeGrado and her organization join several other groups every few weeks to coordinate fostering of the dogs flowing to Illinois from southern states. Right now, she says, Paws Up 4 Rescue Joliet is fostering 69 dogs who need homes. The nonprofit is also reducing its adoption fees for the month of July to help handle the constant flow of dogs needing homes.
Paws Up 4 Rescue Joliet is also trying to recover from the hacking and take-over of its Facebook page. A clickbait company called “Animal News” took over Paws Up’s 50,000-member Facebook page and alumni Facebook group, forcing the group to start a new page. DeGrado says help in repopulating that page is essential to the work of Paws Up.
Multi-lingual mural, marriage equality ceremony, transgender clothing closet also part of Bolingbrook Pride
Another highlight of Bolingbrook Pride is a mass marriage and/or vow renewal ceremony, open to anyone who pre-registers here. Participating couples need to have a valid marriage or civil union license and certificate. The event will feature a legal officiant, and couples will also have the option of ordering three photos for a small donation.
Attendees can help stock a transgender clothing closet by bringing an item to donate. The closet, a project of the Partners in Pride Wellness Center therapy group, is in particular need of “gender-neutral or masculine clothing” that is extra-small, small, 1X, 2X or 3C, and binders, organizers say. People undergoing gender transitions who need clothing are also welcome to check out what’s available.
Yet another highlight of the event is the Civic Center’s new “Welcome Wall,” featuring welcoming messages in 27 different languages. The mosaic mural is a tribute to Bolingbrook’s diverse population: it’s the third-most diverse suburb of Chicago, with almost 60 percent of its residents identifying as non-white.\
Other features of the event: an on-site group art creation event, a bookmobile, bounce house, face-painting, vegan and non-vegan ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s, and a strong focus on accessibility. Also, anyone who brings diapers or nonperishable food to donate will receive a free rainbow swag bag.
Ryan McVey, a volunteer with Bolingbrook Pride, says the event’s spirit of “openness and understanding” is especially important “at a time when support and acceptance of the LGBTQI+ community seems to be a divisive issue (for some).” And co-chair Jessica Parks says Pride events are “radical” in the face of discrimination today.
“Our Picnic and Puppies event is a powerful reminder of our shared humanity,” Parks says. “We are proud of Bolingbrook and the way it is growing to openly accept and welcome LGBTQ+ families and individuals.”
(Cover photo courtesy Bolingbrook Pride)