Say it loud!: Out in force for London's 31st Gay Pride parade

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The Independent Online

Eighty-five gay and lesbian police officers marched into history yesterday. They led a merry band of dancers in hotpants, men in drag and a rollerskating nun through the streets of London for the 31st annual Gay Pride parade. For the first time, officers taking part were allowed to march in uniform, and they were led by Britain's highest-ranking openly gay police officer, Commander Brian Paddick.

The 60,000-strong march wound its way through the West End and along Piccadilly, to the bemusement of Japanese tourists trying to find their way through the throng to Buckingham Palace.

Costumes ranged from the flamboyant to the non-existent as Village People lookalikes competed for attention with angels in thongs.

For Julia McKeon, 39, from Birmingham, the parade was a personal triumph. "I've been engaged five times but after 20 years of lying to myself I've finally come out and found a woman that I love. I've taken a lot of stick for it at home so to come to my first Gay Pride is a breath of fresh air,'' she said.

Robert Cook, 62, said he had been to every Gay Pride for the past 26 years: "It's changed enormously in that time,'' he said. "Sometimes there were only 2,000 people; now there's over 50,000. Once upon a time people watching were rather hostile - now everyone's applauding.''