As we celebrate PRIDE month, I am reminded of Brookfield Zoo’s first-ever PRIDE celebration that occurred in June of 2015. This was the result of an LGBTQ diversity presentation at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Annual Conference in 2014, in which I was a participant. When asked by our chief executive officer to oversee a celebration around PRIDE month, I immediately got to work. Like any millennial, I started my research by googling zoo and aquarium PRIDE events and was surprised to see very few zoos or aquariums had hosted institution-driven PRIDE celebrations.
So, being in Chicagoland, I reached out to colleagues in the LGBTQ community and was pointed in the direction of a local duo who hosts LGBTQ-themed events throughout the greater-Chicago area. After discussing various ideas, we landed on a daytime festive market with rainbow PRIDE flags around Brookfield Zoo to engage with zoo visitors, followed by a ticketed cocktail party in the evening for those who wanted something more exclusive.
After a few months of planning, 25 June 2015, was upon us, and both events were successful! The daytime event, held near our main entrance to the Zoo, attracted quite a bit of attention; the feather boas and rainbow flags were difficult to miss! Guests were able to engage with locally-owned LGBTQ businesses, buy PRIDE-themed products, listen to live music, and engage with a few of our animal ambassadors. A few corporate partners with strong LGBTQ support also had booths in the market area.
Then, the evening event was upon us, which started with a VIP meeting of one of our resident Humboldt penguins near their habitat in the Living Coast, followed by a DJ spinning beats into the night in our outdoor pavilions. Guests were able to enjoy delicious hors d'oeuvres, specialty cocktails, a beautiful rainbow cake, and see some of the other exhibits at the Zoo. We even had a local drag queen celebrity as emcee of the event. It was a fun and chill vibe for the entire evening.
However, with any event that strays from the norm, there were detractors. None in person, but we had posted on social media about the events, and that is where the minimal backlash occurred. A few members even called to demand a refund on their membership. Though that part was disappointing, it was expected that some people would be offended by a zoo or aquarium taking a stand for diversity and inclusion.
But, what still brings me joy about the entire event are the many, many more positive comments on our social media, as well as the staff who felt more comfortable after the event to make their sexuality known to their colleagues at the Zoo, allowing them to bring their whole selves to work. One of my favorite Facebook posts is of a mother who took a photo of her three young children smiling and wrapping themselves in one of the PRIDE flags.
There will always be hate and misunderstanding in our world, but love will always win!
Colin A. D. Borck is the director of donor society clubs and co-chair of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility Committee.