Wheaton says it again will issue proclamation recognizing LGBTQ+ Pride, later this month

A year ago, a rainbow-colored display marked a watershed moment for LGBTQ+ visibility in Wheaton.

Downtown store windows were painted with vibrant designs in honor of Pride Month last June -- an outgrowth of a campaign, started by the nonprofit OUTspoken Leaders, to post #WheatonProud stickers on businesses.

Then Mayor Phil Suess signed the city’s first-ever proclamation recognizing Pride. It was also greeted as a sign of progress in a city traditionally known for its conservative, religious core.

This year, the city again plans to issue a Pride proclamation later in the month.

But the announcement came Monday after some uncertainty about whether the city would commemorate Pride with another proclamation. It also came hours before LGBTQ+ advocates and allies were planning to rally outside city hall and show support for a proclamation during Monday’s council meeting.

Suess said Monday the city is following the same process as last year and that he intends to read a Pride proclamation at the second city council meeting of the month, which falls this year on June 21.

“The focus on what we do on the council is to bring the community together, so it’s consistent with that view that we did a proclamation last year, and we’re doing a proclamation this year,” Suess said.

At the council meeting, Suess read a statement stating that the proclamation “is something that is important to our community, as demonstrated by the letters and statements of support the city received last year and the feedback we continue to receive.”

Some residents thanked the city for committing to the proclamation, but they also urged officials to recognize Pride earlier in the month and to organize additional festivities so that the LGBTQ+ community feels seen and affirmed.

“We’re asking for acceptance and recognition,” said Jacob Kniep, the executive director of OUTspoken Leaders, which hosts weekly discussion groups and other events to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ people.

He viewed the city’s statement as a direct response to an outpouring of support for the group’s efforts and its push for a proclamation.

While downtown businesses were decorated with Pride colors last June, storefronts now bear the likeness of Frida Kahlo to coincide with a College of DuPage exhibition of her works.

We love Frida Kahlo, but there’s not as much rainbows this year,” Kniep said.

Kniep was worried there wouldn’t be another Pride proclamation in part because of negative messages that city officials received regarding Pride last year. Kniep said the comments were made in emails obtained via a public records request.

Councilwoman Erica Bray-Parker said some community members voiced opposition to the proclamation and had “some concerns with the windows downtown.” But Bray-Parker said those messages represented a small contingent and that there also has been “widespread and vocal support across the community of Wheaton.”

“There’s still the momentum in Wheaton, and the underlying principle is that we are a welcoming community to our diverse population,” she said.

OUTspoken also plans to host a drive-by Pride parade around Glen Ellyn and Wheaton June 27.

“Again, it’s for that visibility,” Kniep said. “It’s to show those kids who can’t be out that they’re welcome here and that they’re loved here, and regardless of what anybody says, we love them.”