BELLEVILLE — Beer, music, drag queens and political activism marked Saturday's annual PrideFest, which transformed a block-long stretch of West Main Street into a loud and colorful celebration of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender issues and achievements.
The Illinois General Assembly's failure earlier this month to pass a marriage equality bill weighed heavily on the minds of several of PrideFest participants interviewed.
Ashton Philipps, 20, of Glen Carbon, predicted a marriage equality measure -- which would legalize gay marriage -- will pass the next time the issue comes up before Illinois lawmakers because "there's higher support for it."
The growing support for marriage equality derives from public awareness being raised through events such as Pride festivals, said Philipps, a transgender individual transitioning from female to male.
Such festivals show that "we are just like you, except obviously our sexual orientation is different," Philipps said.
Caroline Staerk, director of the field programs for Equality Illinois, has campaigned for five years to promote marriage equality.
Staerk handed out postcards for PrideFest participants to send to their lawmakers and collected names of volunteers willing to work on phone banks and go knocking on doors.
Although disappointed with the Illinois House leadership's failure this spring to call a vote a marriage equality bill passed earlier by the Illinois Senate, Staerk said her group will eventually succeed.
"Clearly we're going to put our all into this," she said. "We want to see it pass and we want it done as soon as it possibly can."
The biggest thing that people in favor of marriage equality can do is talk to their local lawmakers, she said.
"People need to tell their stories," Staerk said.
At least 5,000 people were expected to attend Saturday's PrideFest, the only LGBT festival in southwestern Illinois, according to Colin Murphy, the president of Metro East Pride of Southwestern Illinois, which organized Saturday's PrideFest. A sudden rainstorm Saturday afternoon sent participants fleeing for shelter and cut the event short.
A wild card in the effort to pass a marriage equality bill in Illinois is the decision the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to make by the end of June on two high-profile gay marriage cases: the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, and California's Proposition 8, a ballot measure that recognizes only heterosexual marriages.
The high court's expected ruling, because of its extensive reach, is going to make the gay marriage issue in Illinois "more complicated," Philipps said.
Murphy, however, predicted the Supreme Court will hand down a positive ruling for marriage equality.
As a result, Illinois lawmakers will get "the political cover" they need to make gay marriage finally legal in Illinois, Murphy said.