It was the Pride March, a buoyant global celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identity. It swept down Fifth Avenue and into Greenwich Village at a moment in history that many said was a crucial one, a half-century after the landmark Stonewall uprising: More gay rights have been affirmed than ever before, but LGBTQ issues remain a flashpoint in the nation’s culture wars.
Pride parade: 50 years after Stonewall, a joyous and resolute celebration
NEW YORK — There were moments of celebration, moments of contemplation, moments of commemoration — and complaints about commercialization. There were people who were passionate about equal rights and people who reveled in being free to be themselves.
On Sunday, amid the bright palette of rainbow colors on flags and floats, there was awareness — the sober awareness of 50 years of laws and changing attitudes that moved gay men, lesbians and transgender people into the mainstream.
“It’s beautiful to see something like this happen, especially at a time like this and where our country is at politically,” said Joanna Fanizza, who watched the march with her friend Nitya Vink.
But the march was also showy and splashy. Bands blared. People in wild wigs and extravagant makeup danced. Rainbow balloons drifted skyward, and rainbow banners rippled in the early-summer breeze. Rainbow flags adorned apartment towers, town houses, storefronts, scaffolding and people: on their T-shirts, dresses, lei-like necklaces, socks and shoes.
And there was a choir from Norway, dressed like sailors, ready with blue umbrellas in case it started raining. “We use them in our dance,” said one of the singers, Paal Christian Gjoeen.
The march brought together activists from across generations and around the world as one of the main events of WorldPride, the international LGBTQ gathering held every couple of years. Scheduling WorldPride for New York was a first: In the 19 years since its inaugural conference in Rome, WorldPride had never taken place in the United States.
“Fifty years ago, this is where the revolution began,” said Tiffany Fantasia, a drag queen from Miami, as she danced her way along. “Fifty years ago was when we decided enough is enough.”
For many who marched or jammed the sidelines, it was hard to understand just how much prejudice was once directed at gay men, lesbians and transgender people. In 1969, laws in 49 states made gay sex between consenting adults a crime. In New York, it was illegal for two men to dance together until 1971.
Now there are laws and protections against workplace discrimination. Drugs have made HIV and AIDS, which devastated the gay world in the 1980s, manageable.
But the successes were tempered by memories. There was a moment of silence two minutes before the Pride march began, to remember those who lost their lives to AIDS and hate crimes.
In numbers and in scope, Sunday’s march was different from the first, in 1970, which drew a crowd of “over 1,000,” according to the police. Some of the organizers had put the number as high as 20,000.
This time around, more than 650 groups were registered to take part in the march, with 150,000 people expected to walk the parade route.
“The enormity of this — I’m still having a hard time processing it,” James Fallarino, a spokesman for the march, said before it began. In the huge crowd were people who had never attended the Pride March — and 95-year-old Frances Goldin, holding a sign that said: “I Adore My Lesbian Daughters/Keep Them Safe.”
The sign, by now, is a family relic. “She’s been bringing this exact sign to Pride marches for 40 years,” said Reeni Goldin, 70, one of the daughters the sign referred to. Times have changed: Originally, Reeni Goldin said, the sign was not just an expression of love, it was also an expression of fear.
This time around, it appeared in photographs with Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, and Letitia James, the New York state attorney general, among others.
Younger families talked about wanting to witness something as large and meaningful as the parade. Cliff Canfield, 48, said he had wanted to bring his 15-year-old daughter, Juliana, so she “could be a part of history.” She said the parade was noticeably different from her Connecticut high school, where, she said, talking about sexuality and identity is taboo.
Over the years, the Pride march has become a required stop for New York politicians, and Sunday was no exception. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo marched in the parade, as did New York’s two U.S. senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, among many others.
Johnson did the dance move that has become a trademark, a cheerleader-style split kick. And Cuomo said he had just signed a bill to ban defense lawyers in murder cases from using “gay panic” or “transgender panic” strategies in state courts. Defendants accused of killing lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people have sometimes used these strategies, asserting temporary insanity and maintaining that their actions were justified by the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Before the Pride March began, there was what amounted to an alternative march that went in the opposite direction — uptown, along the route of the original 1970 march, toward the Sheep Meadow in Central Park. The organizers of the dissident event, the Queer Liberation March, said the Pride march “does not represent the spirit of Stonewall,” because, for all the progress that has been made, the LGBTQ community still faces struggles.
“There is much to celebrate today,” said Jim Fouratt, a gay rights activist who took part in the 1970 march, “and still so much to fight for.”
Like the larger Pride parade, the Queer Liberation event had marching bands, but there was less cheering and more chanting, and the dissident group had asked the Police Department to hold to “minimum” staffing, in contrast to the very visible police presence at the Pride march — necessary, its organizers said, because of the crowds.
The organizers of the dissident march criticized the Pride march as having become essentially an advertising showcase for floats sponsored by major corporations that distracted from the message of Stonewall. That criticism was echoed by one of the Pride parade’s own grand marshals, actor Indya Moore.
Moore, who plays Angel Evangelista in the FX television series “Pose” and identifies as gender nonbinary, singled out the largest corporate sponsor of the Pride march, T-Mobile.
“It’s really important,” Moore said, “for our friends at T-Mobile, and any other brands that are shining bright with our rainbow colors, to make sure they look out for grassroots organizations that are helping the black and trans women that we see every day on the train that we criticize for being sex workers.”
Chris Frederick, managing director of Heritage of Pride, said before the march began that it was a sign that gay pride “has become so mainstream that there is an expectation for companies to show up and showcase that they have a diverse workplace.” Often, he said, “it’s their employees that are driving their participation who are identified as LGBT internally and are passionate about driving diversity.”
Both marches built on the foundation laid by the 1970 march, which, in turn, built on the foundation laid by a different event the year before, two months before the Woodstock rock concert and one month before Neil A. Armstrong walked on the moon.
That event was a police raid on a bar that was little known beyond the gay crowd that danced and drank there.
Now its name is world famous: the Stonewall Inn. Seedy then, it is now a National Historic Landmark, and the Pride march paid homage on Sunday. Its U-shaped route funneled the marchers into the narrow streets of Greenwich Village for a few blocks, sending them along Christopher Street and past the Stonewall Inn.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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