What 12-year-old wouldn’t want to throw a giant party? That’s exactly what Molly Pinta, co-founder of the Pinta Pride Project, pulled off, with the help of her parents and an encouragingly supportive community. That’s pretty special, but what’s even more special is the reason she wanted to plan this event, since this wasn’t just any party. This was the first-ever Pride Parade to be held in the Illinois town of Buffalo Grove, located about an hour outside of Chicago. And her reason for putting it together was her fearless and big-hearted need to make everyone – everyone – feel loved, accepted, and included.
We talked to Molly and her mother, Carolyn Pinta, about Molly’s months-long efforts to put this wildly successful event together, the long-awaited return of the Buffalo Grove Pride Parade this year, and Molly’s amazing ability to bring people together not just in her midwestern town, but around the country.
“I Realized They Need Support”
Before her involvement in the LGBTQ Pride movement, Molly Pinta, now 16, was determined to make everyone in her community, especially her young peers, feel loved and accepted, and that they had a space for themselves.
Her local middle school did not have a Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), a “student-led and student-organized school club that aims to create a safe, welcoming, and accepting school environment for all youth, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity” (per the ACLU), so she took it upon herself to start one, with the help of Carolyn, who is a teacher at her former school.
Molly points out that this club was an important way to give kids a community, kids that often didn’t get the support they needed at home or anywhere else. “We had lots of people come out in that club, and lots of people were able to find a community then at our school…I realized they need support, and they didn’t have it as much at my school as we would like.”
Carolyn agrees: “I really feel for the kids there, and there are plenty of them…the kids in that club (I’m still at the school she went to and still run the acceptance club there) unfortunately, they do not get the support at home.”
Molly’s efforts to create a strong support network at her school were indeed extremely important. Some studies from last decade found that 85% of LGBT youth reported being harassed because of their sexual orientation, and 64% reported feeling unsafe at school, but research now shows that organizations like GSAs can actually combat this.
In a meta-analysis of 15 independent studies surveying nearly 63,000 high school students published by Journal of Youth and Adolescence, researchers found that students who attended a school with a GSA were:
- 52% less likely to hear homophobic remarks
- 36% less likely to be fearful for their personal safety
- 30% less likely to experience homophobic victimization
And that goes for all students, not just those who participate in GSAs. According to the study authors, “Having a GSA can send a strong message to all students that their school is a welcoming place where all people are accepted and that homophobic acts will not be tolerated…With LGBTQ and straight peers supporting each other, students blossomed, grew and became more confident—and felt safer at school.”
And Molly’s focus on making everyone, especially young people, feel loved and accepted, made her want to create a Pride event for all. And so the seeds were planted for Pinta Pride Project, and its baby, the Buffalo Grove Pride Parade, a family-friendly event that she could share with everyone in her community.
“We Were Just So Amazed by the Love We Felt”
Molly gives a lot of credit to her parents, Carolyn and Bob Pinta (who helped her co-found the Pinta Pride Project), for the empathy and predisposition to activism that she’s shown since she was in middle school. They took her to her first Pride Parade in Aurora, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago) when she was 12; the parade, the only Pride event in her local area (other than the Chicago Pride Parade), made a huge impression on her.
“We went there and we were just so amazed,” said Molly. “We were just so amazed by the love we felt, and we wanted to bring that love to other people.” So she and her parents decided to, well, just do it. Molly is pretty humble about her incredible efforts to pull off an event of this size and success when she was just 12: “We were in the car, and we were like, we love this parade! And we kind of just jumped on it. We didn’t expect it to get as big as it did, or to raise as much money as we did, but I guess the people in Buffalo Grove were really ready for something like this.”
The town does indeed seem to have been ready, both in terms of helping to get the parade off the ground financially, and in terms of getting out of the way and letting it go forward. Although they started with a simple (and successful) GoFundMe page, Molly and her parents eventually brought an impressive amount of local sponsors on board, and raised a lot of money through the nonprofit they set up, the Pinta Pride Project.
“Especially with what’s going on in the world right now,” said Carolyn, “folks are eager to be involved and show that my company doesn’t go for that, my company wants to stand with you. So it’s really heart-warming.” All of their fundraising brought in over $50,000 dollars, enough to make the event a much bigger, and more exciting, event than even Molly had dreamed.
For their part, the local government had no issues with the Pinta’s ideas, only asking that they raise the money privately and do everything the police asked them in terms of safety and security for the event. The town even went one step further, training local police in “best practices for Pride events” before the parade.
So, with all their careful planning and fundraising, the first Buffalo Grove Pride Parade went off without a hitch in 2019. As Molly said, it was bigger than she had imagined it would be, with around 8,000 people participating. Molly, only 13 by that point, was such a hit that she was asked to be the Youth Grand Marshal of the 2019 Chicago Gay Pride Parade, and was featured on The Today Show for her work. The Chicago parade officials called her “a shining example of the hard work and sacrifices” of LGBTQ activists throughout history.
But that year – 2019 – should set off alarm bells. Less than one year later, the Covid-19 pandemic hit, forcing them to cancel the in-person parade for 2020. Of course, that didn’t stop Molly from bringing Pride to her community that dark year. The Pintas just creatively switched gears and kept the love coming to Buffalo Grove.
“It ended up being very cool what we ended up doing,” Carolyn said: instead of a traditional parade, they hosted what they called “The Pride Drive” (her dad’s idea, according to Molly). Participants could drive around the neighborhoods of Buffalo Grove to experience their event: “We had a ton of houses put up decorations,” said Molly, “and host drag queens, and music, and we created a path you could go through of around 100 houses, so people could go around in their car (and get out if they felt safe to) and experience something sort of like a parade.”
And that’s not all that the Pinta Pride Project has been up to. Although it started as an organization meant to raise money for one Pride Parade, the overwhelming amount of money and support they have gotten has encouraged the Pintas to branch out and create other events. They have held events celebrating Trans Day of Visibility, National Coming Out Day celebrations, vigils to raise awareness for trans people who have experienced violence, and a GSA prom.
“It Has Created So Many Connections Between People”
The Pinta Pride Project is still going strong, and the Buffalo Grove Pride Parade will make its triumphant in-person return this year. “We’re very excited to have our parade this year! And we hope people are excited to come to a real parade again!” said Molly. And it’s not just the actual parade that everyone in her community feels the benefits of, according to Molly – it’s the connections that it forms.
“It has created so many connections between people. It’s helped people in this community find people just like them that they can talk to, find support, and overall has just created this awareness and education about the LGBTQ community in Buffalo Grove. Which is so important – a lot of people are just unaware, they just don’t know things, and I think our project is an opportunity to learn, and meet people like you, or not like you! There is so much to learn from other people!”
And, according to Carolyn, speaking to the Chicago Tribune at the time of the first parade, the event was more than just another day on the community calendar: it allowed young people especially to feel seen and accepted. “That’s why we feel all these pride things are so important,” Carolyn told the newspaper, “so if they’re not being accepted at home, they know there is a whole world in the real world that does accept me, once when I get to this phase and become an adult, I will be just fine. That’s what we hope for.” Molly agreed, telling NBC at the time, “This parade really is important because of all the kids who don’t have supportive homes, and they need to get it somewhere, and this is where they can get it.”
In fact, the Pinta Pride Project is no longer “just” a local organization, hosting a local event. Their Facebook page has exploded, bringing people together to share their experiences and find real connection and understanding, something that both the world of social media and the wider world seem to be struggling with in our current climate. For example, one woman who attended their Trans Day of Visibility event posted afterward that it was the first time she’d gone out dressed exactly as herself, and then opened up about how it felt inside to be transgender. Said Molly, “And all the comments were like, ‘Wow, I’ve never thought of that before!’ It really helps people learn.”
While the Pintas – and Molly especially – have gotten mostly positive feedback and support for what they’re doing and what they stand for, there have been unfortunate incidents of harassment. But they remain positive in the face of it: “We’ve been so lucky that when there is a major incident like that,” said Carolyn, “we always end up getting more support.”
“We’re All About Visibility”
Turns out the love and support they have given their community is coming back to them, as they deserve. Molly, in addition to being a Youth Grand Marshal and receiving tons of good press, was also named a Youth Ambassador for the Human Rights Campaign and was the winner of the 2020 Illinois NOW Young Feminist Award.
So what’s next for Molly and the Pinta Pride Project?
According to Carolyn, “This one [Molly] knows who she is, she’s so proud to be the face of this project, and do as much as she can, but she’s a very serious student, and she has plans, she wants to be a vet…but her dad and I, we have really found our life’s calling, and we will throw this parade until we can’t walk anymore…We plan on throwing at least two events every year, the Parade and National Coming Out Day. And really, things kind of happen organically around here. People will be kind of just complaining about something that’s upsetting them, and we’ll throw an event together to combat that. So we kind of go with what the crowd needs.”
The events are one thing, according to Carolyn and Molly, and are full of joy and fun, but it’s really what’s going on behind and around them that matters. “Our proudest thing is being able to connect people,” said Carolyn. To that end, they have also started a parent support group, and they work hard to connect people with other nonprofit organizations that can offer more full-time support for LGBTQ issues.
We’ll leave you with the advice of the Pintas for those who are not members of the LGBTQ community, and who want to be allies, but aren’t quite ready to throw an entire parade to show their support. “If you’re an ally, it’s not enough to say you’re an ally – find a way to show it every day. Even if it’s just wearing a sticker or a pin that shows you’re a safe person, because every single day, someone who needs to see it will see it.” To them, everything they have done has “been all about visibility” according to Carolyn, about showing up and really seeing others, and wanting to reach out and make that human connection.