A crowd of more than 200,000 cheered the 19th annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade in West Hollywood on Sunday, pausing to release balloons in memory of AIDS victims and mark the 20th anniversary of the riot that spawned the homosexual rights movement.
Throngs of people whooped it up, dancing and singing as the parade passed. The parade wound along Santa Monica Boulevard after kicking off with the release of several thousand pink balloons, inscribed with the words “I Love You,” to remember those who have died from acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
For Morris Kight, a director emeritus of Christopher Street West and a veteran of the gay rights movement, the weekend celebration could not have been more perfect.
“We are looking over the last 20 years with pride,” said Kight, who helped organize Los Angeles’ first gay pride parade, which was held in Hollywood in 1970. “When this generation started, it was not gay to be gay. We are celebrating 20 years of action. I find it stunning.” The theme of the celebration, which capped a two-day street festival, was “Stonewall 20: A Generation of Pride.” The festival marked the 20th anniversary of the 1969 rebellion at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street in New York. The event is regarded in the homosexual community as the turning point in the modern gay and lesbian rights movement.
“I think it’s a great day, I feel good I am still here,” said Paul Duncan, who is currently undergoing treatment for AIDS. “To me, the parade is a celebration of pride, a day I don’t have to worry about AIDS.”
Veteran CARES, a group of gay veterans representing all branches of the military, led 257 floats and contingents in the pageant. The parade was sponsored by Christopher Street West/Los Angeles, a nonprofit group that provides grants to the gay and lesbian community.
The 10,000 marchers, ranging from the elegant to the extraordinary, waved and shouted to those who jammed the sidewalks. Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), the parade’s grand marshal, and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley received warm ovations as they rode in vintage Cadillacs.
A character called “Kaptain Condom,” dressed in a red, white and blue superhero suit, also was cheered as he cruised by the grandstand on an old military tank decorated with balloons and streamers. Not far behind were the West Hollywood High Cheerleaders, a group of female impersonators sporting pompons, false breasts, wigs and mustaches.
“This is our day to be free,” said Steve Pounds, 29, who has been attending the parade with his mother for 10 years. “It is about time we can be ourselves.”
Pounds’ mother, JoAnne Wright, was equally enthusiastic.
Called a Positive Thing
“I don’t believe gays belong pushed in the closet,” Wright said. “The parade is a very positive thing--I think more parents should support their children.”
Not everyone at the parade shared that view.
A knot of Christian fundamentalist protesters, largely ignored by the crowd, stood to one side. “Shame on you for what you do,” they chanted.
Hundreds of thousands of marchers paraded in other major cities. In San Francisco, Mayor Art Agnos, along with Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer, both Democrats from California--rode floats alongside AIDS workers and victims as that parade moved through the Castro district, the city’s gay area.
And in New York City, home of the Stonewall Inn, the parade down 5th Avenue featured colorful floats, drum and bugle corps and costumes.
A minimum of incidents of violence was reported along the route.