More than a million people marched in support of gay pride in New York City on Sunday, commemorating the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots while celebrating recent strides against bans on same-sex marriage across the United States.
Every year, the parade passes the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, where police and gay men clashed in 1969. On packed sidewalks, revelers adorned with rainbow flags and balloons cheered on the marchers.
“To see all this is wonderful. It’s so much fun. We’ve been coming for the last five years,” said Will Truskowski, 36, a paralegal from the borough of Queens.
Truskowski was there with his husband, Michael, whom he wed after New York state legalized gay marriage in 2011.
“It’s really important that we are visible. It’s just great to be out and see all this energy and all this excitement.”
The corner where the Truskowskis drank beer and relaxed with friends was, 45 years earlier, the scene of a violent confrontations between the New York Police Department and men at the Stonewall Inn after the police raided the bar and beat patrons.
On Sunday a group of police marched in the parade, and thousands of officers lined Manhattan’s streets, directing traffic, pedestrians and conversing with paradegoers. Many in the crowd remembered when life for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender New Yorkers wasn’t as easy as it is now.
“I had to fear for my life,” said Vinny Pers, 53, from Middle Island, New York. “This generation has no idea the fight we had to endure.” But, he added, “I’m happy they don’t have to struggle.”
Pers said he never thought he’d see a world where LGBT people could be as open about their sexuality as they are at pride festivities.
His friend Jaimie McKeaveney, 23, who is bisexual and also from Middle Island, declared, “Everybody deserves equal rights,” when asked why she was attending the parade.
Mike Jones, 58, who is straight, has sold rainbow flags and trinkets at pride marches for the last 10 years. Originally from Branchville, Virginia, and now living in Brooklyn, he said he sees the parade as a chance for people to be who they really are.
“God made us all,” he said. “If we were all the same, that would be really messed up.”
“You have to be yourself.”
But for some paradegoers, the day is a reminder that the fight for social justice is not over for many in the international gay community.
While gay rights advocates have made significant gains in the United States, anti-gay laws in countries such as Uganda, which criminalizes homosexuality with punishments as severe as life imprisonment, and anti-gay mob attacks in Nigeria underscore that the global struggle for freedom isn’t over.
Yelena Goltsman, who in 2008 founded RUSA LGBT, a group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from states of the former Soviet Union, said that although she’s happy to attend the pride march, the joy of the day was diluted by the struggle of her counterparts in Russia, who face police violence, gang attacks and discriminatory laws.
More than 100 people marched Sunday with RUSA LGBT in support of gay rights in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Goltsman condemned Russia’s criminalization of the “promotion” of “gay propaganda,” which advocates say enables arrests, fines and deportation of people who support LGBT rights.
A Human Rights Campaign report released Friday to mark the first anniversary of the law’s passage details incidents of violence and discrimination against LGBT people since the law came into effect.
“For us, this day is bittersweet. We are happy because we are here and can express ourselves, but we are very sad that people are treated as second-class citizens in the former Soviet Union,” said Goltsman, who was born in Ukraine and immigrated to the U.S. in 1990.
In Greenwich Village, a historic hub of gay culture in the city, Jessica Santiago, a 25 year-old lesbian from Wilmington, Delaware, was enjoying her first trip to the city’s pride march. Wearing a bow tie and sporting a rainbow flag on her belt loop, she walked near Christopher Street with two friends, a broad smile on her face.
“This is my first trip to NYC, and it’s awesome.” Santiago said. “I’m gay, and I love women!”
Parades outside New York City drew crowds as well. In Chicago, as many as 1 million people packed the streets of the city’s North Side for the first gay pride parade since Illinois legalized gay marriage last month.
Charlie Gurion, who with David Wilk in February became the first couple in Cook County to get a same-sex marriage license, said there was a different feel to the parade this year.
“I think there is definitely like an even more sense of pride now knowing that in Illinois you can legally get married now,” Gurion said as he posed for photograph after photograph with Wilk at the parade. “I think it is a huge thing, and everybody’s over the moon that they can do it now.”
In Seattle thousands of people gathered in downtown Seattle for the city’s 40th annual pride parade. This year’s theme, “Generations of pride,” honors civil rights battles in the city, which elected its first openly gay mayor in November.
Actor George Takei, who co-starred in the original “Star Trek” TV show and movies and is now an activist for gay and civil rights, was the celebrity grand marshal of the Seattle parade.
In San Francisco hundreds of motorcyclists of the lesbian group Dykes on Bikes took their traditional spot at the head of the 44th annual parade and loudly kicked off the festivities with a combined roar. Apple Inc. had one of the largest corporate presences, and Tim Cook, its chief executive, greeted the estimated 4,000 employees and family members who participated. The parade drew more than 100,000 spectators and participants.
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and assorted state and local politicians rolled along Market Street along with gay city police officers holding hands with their significant others as their children skipped ahead.
Some veterans of the San Francisco parade said the event has lost some of its edge as the event and gays gain mainstream acceptance.
“There’s less partying,” said Larry Pettit, who said he attended the first parade more than four decades ago. “There’s less sex. Everyone’s interested in politics, and no one is having sex.”
Additional reporting from The Associated Press