Photo: James Tensuan/S.F. Chronicle
By: Winston Ross/Newsweek
Supporters of gay rights took to the streets of New York, San Francisco, Orlando, Chicago and other cities across the globe on Sunday in annual celebrations of gay rights with a brooding twist, in the wake of this month’s massacre at a gay nightclub in Florida. This year, many of the participants in annual marches demonstrated their opposition to America’s obsession with guns.
In New York City, tens of thousands of marchers paraded through Manhattan, dressed mostly in rainbow-tinged outfits per a tradition that dates to the 1969 Stonewall rebellion, a spate of demonstrations by members of the LGBT community after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Nearly a half-century later, LGBT supporters can celebrate a string of victories, especially last year’s Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. But the shooting in Orlando served as a grim reminder that bigotry and hatred remain very much alive.
I’ve been so heartbroken and outraged by Orlando,” said Dorothee Benz, 50, who was marching with a group called New York Supports Orlando. “We need to be out loud and proud more than ever, but it comes with mourning and anger.”
New York’s celebration included dozens of visual tributes to victims of the Orlando massacre, some as simple as an Orlando Magic jersey, others more pointed at the National Rifle Association. One marcher held a sign that read “NRA Sashay Away.” At one point in the parade, some 100 men dropped to the ground for 30 seconds, as a megaphone-wielding woman led them in a chant of “What do we want?” “Gun Control!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” Others walked silently down 5th Avenue with their faces covered in ghostly white gauze, drawing applause from the sidelines. The lead float in New York’s parade carried Pulse owner Barbara Poma and the club’s entertainment manager, Neema Bahrami.
Among the New York marchers were three men from Gays Against Guns, or GAG, a group that was formed after the Orlando shootings.
“We realized that in different facets, the gay community has been supporting common-sense gun laws for a long time, but it has never organized as a gay community,” said Chris Arruda, 50, a post-production supervisor for television.
Carrying a sign reading “NRA prepare to GAG,” a reference to the National Rifle Association, Arruda wore a pink triangle on his bare chest, an emblem that the Nazis forced gays to wear before and during World War II.
Hillary Clinton made a surprise appearance in the parade, which with 20,000 expected marchers was to be the largest crowd in its history. She waved while walking alongside New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “One year ago, love triumphed in our highest court. Yet LGBT Americans still face too many barriers. Let’s keep marching until they don’t,” she tweeted. President Barack Obama designated the Stonewall Inn as a national monument on Friday. It was the first time such an honor has been bestowed in recognition of LGBT Americans’ contributions.
Police officials stepped up security at the parades—San Francisco’s parade had security checkpoint screenings at its entrances, for example, and police in New York added helicopter and maritime patrols and an increased presence of uniformed and plainclothes officers. Authorities took similar steps in Chicago. Some departments demonstrated their support for LGBT citizens. New York City police cars had “Pride Equality Peace” painted in rainbow colors.
Some 2 million spectators had been expected to line the route of New York’s parade this year, while organizers forecast a turnout of 1 million in Chicago. At the head of the Chicago parade, a group carried photos of the 49 Orlando nightclub victims. Later a contingent of marchers donned elaborate, rainbow-colored costumes constructed from hundreds of balloons and carried large letters, also formed by balloons, spelling out P-U-L-S-E.
Across the globe, authorities weren’t so supportive. In Istanbul, Turkish police detained 19 people and fired tear gas into the streets to break up a forbidden parade there.
Reuters and Newsweek reporter Lucy Westcott contributed to this article.