In the crowd watching the annual L.A. Pride Parade on Sunday, Raymond Sylvester could hardly keep the smile off his face.
Sylvester, 74, was at the first parade in 1970, when it was so controversial that members of the Los Angeles Police Commission tried to prevent it, citing potential violent reaction from bystanders.
On Sunday, there were families with children — some with two fathers, some with two mothers — all around Sylvester. There were children in the parade. Smiles in the crowd. It was the first parade since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decisions last summer that allowed gay marriage to, once again, be legal in California.
“It’s happier this year,” Sylvester said. “People are happier. They can get married now. You see a lot of people pushing around their kids. It’s beautiful.”
Sylvester was one of thousands of people who lined Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, cheering at rainbow-colored floats, wild costumes and cheerleaders in drag.
Despite the victories and disappointments in the gay rights movement — and amid monumental policy decisions in recent years — the parade has long been a sign of the times for issues affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Before the parade, a transgender preacher, Dr. H. Adam Ackley, led a morning Holy Eucharist service on the street for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. Ackley, a former theology professor at Azusa Pacific University, was asked to resign from his position after announcing that he was a transgender man, according to the advocacy group GLAAD.
“We praise you for being who we are, who you created us to be — gay, trans, bi, lesbian, gender-queer and in so many other ways — with greater beautiful diversity than we can ever imagine,” Ackley said in prayer.
The diocese has been leading a service before the Pride Parade for two decades, said the Rev. Susan Russell, a priest at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. In the first few years, there was suspicion of the group, she said.
“We’re here to undo the damage that the religious right has done to Jesus when they portray him as homophobic,” she said. “We’re here to undo that damage and tell the good news that God loves everybody.”
One man participating in communion wore a shirt reading “Born This Way.”
Down the street, Nicklaus Fox, a West Hollywood veterinarian, posed for pictures with passersby and smiled behind thick lipstick. Fox is captain of the West Hollywood Cheerleaders — a group of male cheerleaders in drag that raises money for HIV and AIDS services and education — and goes by the drag name Helen Back.
“It gives me goosebumps,” he said of the crowd’s excitement every year. “I’m from eastern Montana, and when I came to Los Angeles, I had a lot of internalized homophobia. Part of the reason I moved was because I knew I was gay. We live in a little bubble here in L.A.”
Four families marched with a banner reading “Scouts for Equality,” saying they were demanding equal treatment of gay Boy Scouts, troop leaders and gay parents of Scouts. The organization decided last year to allow gay Scouts but not gay adult leaders.
“What better example can we show our kids than family is family and love is love?” asked Dr. Janet Hastings of La Verne, who marched with her 10-year-old son and her husband, an Eagle Scout. Hastings herself leads a Girl Scout troop.
As a group of Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and L.A. police officers walked past, Lydia Bottegoni ran out to the parade route, clutching her 5-year-old daughter, who gave one of the officers a high five. He gave her a rainbow-colored LAPD bracelet.
Bottegoni, there with her partner Rickey Bottegoni and their twin girls, said their daughters call them a “rainbow family.”
“They don’t get it quite yet,” she said, “but they know the rainbow is something important.”