Brent Bonfiglio is a 23-year-old student who left his native Ohio to attend nursing school in Cerritos. On Sunday, he dressed up as a mermaid and sat atop an ersatz dolphin on a float called "Motion on the Ocean," thus marking his debut in the annual Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade.
"I think it needs to be done," he said, explaining his decision to participate. "There's a lot of really nice, normal people who are gay. I was asked to be on this float yesterday and I'm kind of glad. I've never done anything like this before. . . . It's definitely part of my coming-out process."
For Bonfiglio and thousands of other participants and spectators, Sunday was a day to stand up and be noticed. It was also a day to celebrate political and civil rights achievements already gained, to fight for those yet to come and--as is always the case when the gay community gathers--to mourn those who have lost their lives to AIDS.
The warm, breezy afternoon brought out an estimated 360,000 people, according to parade organizers and sheriff's deputies, who said the crowd was peaceful. Cheering, dancing and clapping, the spectators lined up five and 10 rows deep--and in some cases dangled out of second-story windows--to watch the 1.5-mile procession along Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.
Among them was Robin Coe, a 49-year-old grandmother from Long Beach. "I think it's fantastic," she said as she watched the parade. "I've been out for nine years. . . . If we don't think we're normal, how could anybody else?"
The parade also turned up some political news: Los Angeles County Assessor Kenneth P. Hahn, among a handful of politicians who participated, was introduced as "the senior-most elected openly gay official in Los Angeles." Although Hahn did not make an issue of his sexual orientation in his recent campaign, parade officials said the assessor authorized them to make the introduction. Hahn could not be reached for comment.
With more than 200 groups and 8,000 marchers, the parade was a study in diversity. It featured a broad spectrum of gay life--from lawyers and doctors and scientists to flight attendants, college students, members of the Mormon Church, political activists and two men in a red pickup truck with a sign in front that said "Bill & Howie--23 Years."
"We really are everywhere and we really do everything," exclaimed Wuzzy Spaulding, parade chairman, in an impromptu speech. "And that's what today is all about--a celebration of self and a celebration of community."
But there were somber tones as well. Members of the group ACT UP--Aids Coalition to Unleash Power--walked the parade route carrying a black coffin with white lettering on the sides reading: "120,000 AIDS Deaths."
And Bob Dallmeyer, a 53-year-old marketing consultant from Hollywood, came to the parade dressed in a T-shirt that bears the names of his many friends who have died of AIDS. "Each year I wear it," he said sadly, "and each year it grows more full."
The parade carried the theme "Together in Pride," and its grand marshal was not a person but a piece of legislation--Assembly Bill 101, which would bar employers and landlords from discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation. The bill is expected to come up for a vote today.
The parade marked its 21st anniversary this year. Sponsored by the nonprofit group Christopher Street West, it is the culmination of a two-day celebration and street festival. This year's festival attracted considerable attention when, for the first time, the Los Angeles Police Department permitted uniformed gay officers to set up a recruitment booth.
No LAPD officers marched in Sunday's parade.