Victoria Villalba, a 19-year-old transgender woman from Phoenix, sat on the back seat of a convertible scanning fellow participants of the L.A. Pride Parade: Boy Scouts, Episcopal priests, drag queens and leather enthusiasts.
“There are just no words to describe the honor of being part of this community,” she said, recounting years of hardship that preceded her trip to West Hollywood.
When she came out to her family in Mexico in 2011, she said they threw her out of the house, which led her to flee to the United States in search of political asylum.
Immigration officials denied her request and placed her in a detention center where she said she spent more than three months in solitary confinement, during which time her hormone therapy was interrupted. A community outcry finally prompted her release.
“I’m basically starting my life from scratch now, and no better place to start than here,” she said, wearing a T-shirt marking her as the winner of a youth courage award from the foundation of Colin Higgins, the screenwriter of "Harold and Maude."
Villalba was one of more than 400,000 expected to participate in Pride events along Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood over the weekend, cheering at rainbow-colored floats, cheerleaders in drag and bears in leather straps.
The annual celebration has long served as an affirming place to discuss and demonstrate in response to the victories and disappointments of the gay rights movement – and to take part in one of the region’s most raucous parties.
This year, the upcoming decision by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of gay marriage was one of the most prominent issues, along with the Boy Scouts' ban on gay troop leaders, transgender rights and acceptance of all kinds.
Down the street, Esteban Nunez, a 44-year-old employee of Warner Bros., walked alongside the float for Bears L.A., a charity that promotes camaraderie among big, burly gay men who don’t feel at home among the well-manicured and body-sculpted.
“It’s just fun to let people know that there are all types of gay guys. I’m proud of who I am. I'm not putting my shirt on,” Nunez said.
Despite the gains of the gay rights movement, he said that the support he draws from Pride is still needed.
“I feel like we need it because we still face discrimination,” he said. “It’s not always right out in the open but it’s still there.”
As in previous years, celebrities and community leaders, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Episcopal Bishop J. Jon Bruno, as well as the casts of “Transparent” and “Magic Mike,” sought visible roles in the festivities.
Zooey Luna, a 13-year-old transgender girl from Downey, was one of the parade’s grand marshals, and she said that meeting Channing Tatum of “Magic Mike” was a highlight of her day.
“He told me I was beautiful just the way I am, and everyone cheered me on. I am very happy to be representing the future of Pride,” she said.
But Zooey said she was also mindful of the many transgender youth who committed suicide over the last year, particularly Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen from Ohio who left a note on her Tumblr urging anyone who encountered it to help “fix society. Please.”
“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren't treated the way I was, they're treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better,” Alcorn wrote in December. “My death needs to mean something.”