New York Pride March: Millions attend one of largest LGBT+ parades in history 50 years after Stonewall

Potentially record-breaking parade concludes month commemorating half a century of fight for LGBT+ rights

Andy Gregory
Monday 01 July 2019 10:35 BST
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Lady Gaga addresses World Pride in New York

New York City was swept up in an ocean of rainbow colours as millions filled the streets on Sunday for what was billed as the largest Pride parade in the history of the gay rights movement, a vibrant celebration of the 50th anniversary of the infamous police raid on the Stonewall Inn.

Some 150,000 parade marchers and an estimated four million spectators took over much of midtown Manhattan with a procession that lasted hours and paid tribute to the uprising that began at the tavern when patrons resisted officers on 28 June 1969.

The parade in New York and others like it in cities around the world concluded a month of events marking the anniversary, with marchers in the US celebrating the advances gained during half a century of fighting for equality and renewing calls for action.

“I think that we should be able to say we’ve been here for so long, and so many people are gay that everybody should be able to have the chance to enjoy their lives and be who they are,” said 63-year-old Eraina Clay.

I have a family. I raised kids. I’m just like everybody else.”

“It’s hard for us today, but can you even imagine what some of these people went through in the past? There’s no way to thank them,” said Josh Greenblatt, 25, an actor wearing red sunglasses, a white crop top, ripped jeans and gold-heeled boots at the New York event, designated this year’s site of World Pride.

Mr Greenblatt said he found his outlandish outfit “empowering,” and he had plenty of competition among the iridescent sea of revellers stripping down to the barest of essentials and celebrating New York’s legalisation of toplessness for women.

One woman wore a skin-hugging rainbow dress with a rainbow afro reaching nearly 60cm tall, while a shirtless man sporting rainbow-coloured wings and high white platform shoes strutted up Broadway.

Rainbow onesie leotards were popular, adding to the effervescent collage of colourful wigs, patent leather, fishnets and bright makeup.

The day began with around 2,000 people gathered outside the Stonewall Inn, as nearby the Queer Liberation March held its inaugural event to protest corporate interests and police presence at Pride.

Protesters carried anti-Trump signs and placards reading, “Queer liberation, not rainbow capitalism” and “We resist”, with many later taking part in a sizeable “die-in” at a busy Manhattan junction.

“What’s important to remember is that this is a protest against the monetisation of the Pride parade, against the police brutality of our community, against the poor treatment of sections of our community, of black and brown folk, of immigrants,” said Jake Seller, a 24-year-old living in Brooklyn who worked as one of the march’s volunteers.

In San Francisco, the parade was halted for nearly an hour as around 40 demonstrators linked arms to protest police presence and corporate sponsorship from the likes of Facebook, Netflix and Google.

Protesters broke down barricades and threw water bottles at officers as they rushed onto the parade route, with one demonstrator shouting over a megaphone: “The system of policing upholds white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, gender binaries and capitalist rule.”

While many celebrated the advances gained in civil rights since the Stonewall riots, many were conscious of the challenges still faced by LGBT+ people in the US.

50 years of Pride: How the Stonewall riots sparked an LGBT movement

“I’m definitely a little scared of how things are going, just the anger and violence that comes out of it and just the tone of conversation about it,” said New York resident Alyssa Christianson, 29, of New York City, wearing sparkly pasties on her nipples and boy shorts underwear with a Pride flag tied around her neck like a cape.

We’ve come so far, especially in the last few decades, that I don’t want to see that repressed in any way.”

As the United States grows ever more divided, LGBT+ rights are often drawn into the political quagmire, and despite Trump’s proclamations that he supports the community, there is no doubt that he has made life harder for people.

During his presidency, he has banned transgender people in the military, cut HIV/AIDS research and supported Conservatives’ so-called religious freedom initiatives to curb LGBT+ protections.

“They could turn back gay marriage. Don’t ever fool yourself,” said Christopher Edward Andrew, 53. “Elections matter. Votes matter.”

The transgender community has suffered increased violence in recent years, in particular trans women of colour, dozens of whom have been killed in gun attacks in recent years.

At the Stonewall Inn, an unidentified woman interrupted a drag show to read the names of black trans women who have died and urged those gathered in the Greenwich Village bar to help.

While she was eventually welcomed, an initial tension at the disturbance highlighted historical misgivings between factions of the New York LGBT+ community.

Two early pioneers of the Stonewall movement from the beginning in 1969 were transgender women of colour, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.

But within four years, “drag queens”, as they were called then, were banned from the annual gay pride parade that Johnson and Rivera helped launch.

At the Trans Day of Action, a rally in New York’s Washington Square Park on Friday, people shouted: “Who started this fight?”

The crowd responded: “Trans women of colour.”

However, the mood was intensely jubilant on the whole, infused with a determination to celebrate how far the movement has come.

“I remember friends who would be snatched off the streets in Texas for dressing in drag. They’d have to worry about being persecuted for their identity,” said 55-year-old Gary Piper, who came from Kansas to celebrate Pride in NYC with his partner.

“But now we’re so much more accepted. I’m not saying we don’t have ways to go, but let’s celebrate how far we’ve come,” he said.

Other Stonewall commemorations in New York included rallies, parties, film showings and a human rights conference.

The celebrations wrapped up on Sunday night with a closing ceremony in Times Square and a performance from Madonna.

Parties outside the Stonewall Inn continued long into the night on Saturday and reportedly on Sunday.

“We understand we’re the innkeepers of history,” said current co-owner Stacy Lentz. “We really feel like the fire that started at Stonewall in 1969 is not done. The battleground has just shifted.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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