Gay Pride on Parade

Gay pride was alive and well on the streets of Manhattan today.

Over 350 groups and 500,000 people turned out for the annual Gay Pride Parade.

Gov. David Paterson, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and city officials marched in unity a symbol of how far the Gay Pride Parade has come in 40 years. 

Arthur Finn, of the Heritage of Pride, told NBCNewYork that "the idea that the governor would come is unimaginable."

One of the marshals, Constance McMillen, whose prom was canceled because she asked school officials if she could bring her girlfriend to the dance in her hometown in Mississippi, said she was thrilled to be part of the action.

"I think that people should come out, because the more people who come out and people no that they’ve come out and become friends with them. Then tolerance will be all around," she told NBCNewYork.

The parade moved from 36th Street and Fifth Avenue down the lavender line to Christopher and Greenwich Streets. It taps off Gay Pride Week, which started June 19.

This year’s judging and reviewing stand was bumped over to 9th Street and Fifth Avenue. Fran Rolan, senior co-chair of Heritage of Pride, said the shortened route will not diminish the importance of the parade.

“We are more excited than ever to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the first LGBT Pride March,” said Rolan.

Most notably, the parade will still pass through the historic site of the Stonewall riots at 53 Christopher Street, where the gay rights movement was born. The first gay pride march took place in 1970 to commemorate the year anniversary of the clash gay activists had with police at the Stonewall Inn.

The route was shortened by 0.8 miles this year to comply with new city rules.

Lt. Dan Choi, a West Point graduate who served in Iraq but left active duty because of the military’s “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy, joined McMillen as co-marshal. Parade organizers say he will be the first openly gay male in the military to serve as a grand marshal in a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender pride march.

"I am absolutely proud to violate don’t ask don’t tell all the way down this street today," he told NBCNewYork.

Judy Shepard a mother who lost her son 21-year-old son, Matthew Shepard, in a hate crime in 1998 was the third grand marshal.

ldquo;I am here in memory of my son Matthew and for other young people as well and to remind parents that loving your children is the most important thing you can do in your life," she said.

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