At Gay Pride Parades, a Year to Weave Sorrow and Celebration

In New York, the lead float will be dedicated to the 49 Orlando victims

Rainbow flags were held high along with portraits of the dead as thousands of people marched Sunday in gay pride parades tempered by this month's massacre at a Florida gay nightclub.

"Last year was such a celebratory time, and this year, we have this happening," says James Fallarino, a spokesman for organizers of the New York parade, one of the nation's oldest. "But that's also why it's so important that we are out and loud and proud.

"If we change our event — if we make everything somber — it's, in many ways, allowing those who wish to silence us to win."

Sunday's parades in New York, San Francisco and other cities were unfolding two weeks after an Orlando gay nightclub became the site of the nation's deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Celebrations around such themes as supporting transgender people and pressing for economic justice quickly took on new meanings. Paradegoers saw increased security, anti-violence messages and tributes to those killed in Orlando.

Crowds of onlookers stood a dozen deep along Fifth Avenue for New York City's parade. Some spectators held up orange "We are Orlando" signs, and indications of increased security were everywhere, with armed officers standing by.

Elected officials turned out in force, as did presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. She walked several blocks of the march, joining New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Rev. Al Sharpton for a brief appearance at Stonewall Inn, the bar where a 1969 police raid helped catalyze the gay rights movement.

Authorities expected a larger than usual crowd. Chelsea Restrepo, 15, of Staten Island, came to the march for the first time. She'd planned to come anyway, "but what happened in Orlando made me want to come more," said Restrepo, swathed in a multicolored scarf.

She said she brushed aside her father's concerns in showing up. "My dad was, like, I'm worried after Orlando. And I was, like, I'm going, to show my support."

Sunday's parades also have a new milestone to mark: President Barack Obama on Friday designated the site around New York City's Stonewall Inn as the first national monument to gay rights. A 1969 police raid on the bar helped catalyze the gay rights movement.

And just before the start of the parade, Cuomo announced that the Stonewall Inn would be designated as a state historic site. He also said New York would erect a monument in honor of all victims of hate and intolerance, including those killed in Orlando.

The lead float in New York's parade was dedicated to the Orlando victims. Marchers carried 49 orange flags — the color of choice for campaigns against gun violence — through the route. A "We Are Orlando" solidarity group was added to the lineup. And gun-control, anti-gun-violence groups joined them because the shooting forged new bonds between them and gay-rights activists.

"As the mom of a gay teen, Orlando terrified me," says Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

It's "such an important way for these two communities to come together," said Watts, whose group also has members joining other parades.

At San Francisco's parade, a "We're Orlando" group of about 300 people will be fourth in the lineup. Victims will be honored with a moment of silence when the march reaches the grandstand. A memorial with their photos will be set up inside City Hall.

"It's been an interesting experience to build the parade with kind of a heavier message" after the optimistic sentiment last year, Stephanie Mufson said.

San Francisco spectators will face metal detectors for the first time, and more police than usual will keep watch. Some participants aren't welcoming the stepped-up security: Two honorary grand marshals and a health clinic that serves sex workers withdrew Friday from the parade to protest the heavy police presence.

Chicago police put 200 more officers than usual on duty for the city's pride parade Sunday. Organizers nearly doubled their corps of private security agents, to 160.

In Chicago, 49 marchers at the head of the parade each held aloft a poster-sized photograph of a different Orlando victim as the procession wound through the city. Above each photo were the words, "Never forget."

Despite the somber start, parade-goers seemed as enthusiastic as ever once marchers and floats began moving, cheering and dancing along the route. Many participants said the tributes to the dead in Orlando didn't dampen the energy and fun associated with the pride parade.

"It is another on a list of brutalities over the years (against gays)," said Joe Conklin, 74, of Chicago, as he sat on the back of a float waiting for the OK to move out. "We're aware of Orlando but not overwhelmed by it."

It was a similar feeling in San Francisco, where men in glittery white wings walked on stilts and women in leather pants rode motorcycles as the parade moved along.

Richel Desamparado, of Oakland, California, was marching and carrying a photo of Orlando victim Stanley Almodovar. She said she felt the need to remind people the fight for equality is not over.

"A lot of my gay friends and relatives are still being shunned away by their families and communities," said Desamparado, 31. "People need to remember we're still fighting for equality."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us