If you combined the political fervor of Occupy Wall Street with the bright colors, gleeful exhibitionism, and celebratory atmosphere of Carnival, the result would look a lot like the New York City 2012 Gay Pride Parade.
This year’s participants had a lot to celebrate: One year ago today, Governor Cuomo signed the Marriage Equality Act into law, legalizing gay marriage in the state of New York. In September, the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy that forbade openly gay and lesbian people from serving in the military was repealed. And, in May, President Barack Obama became the first president to openly state that he believes that gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry.
This year’s parade, 42 years after the first gay pride march in 1970, was a four and a half hour spectacle. Beginning at noon with the revving engines of the Sirens Motorcycle Club, the parade featured a constant flow of floats and marching groups (325 in all, all bedecked in rainbow colors). Participants marched, danced, and strutted their way down 5th avenue from 39th street to Christopher street in the West Village. The march concluded at the site of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, a watershed moment in LGBT history that ignited the Pride movement.
Groups that ranged from Google and the Gay Peruvians of the Americas to the Pride Troopers (that’s right, rainbow-colored Storm Troopers), along with New York Senator Chuck Schumer, passed out stickers, Mardi Gras beads, condoms, and rainbow wristbands. My ears are still ringing from the music that blasted from the floats, my throat is hoarse from cheering, and I think I have more free condoms in my bag than anyone could possibly use before they all expire. I’m not complaining: The positive energy and universal acceptance that I felt at Pride made for a day that’s well worth the days it will take to get “Call Me Maybe” out of my head.
Nevertheless, no number of dancing feather-clad drag queens could distract from the very real struggles the LGBT community still faces. Marchers carried signs speaking out against the Stop and Frisk policy and police brutality, and calling for universal marriage equality, justice for CeCe McDonald, and even a socialist candidate for president. At exactly 3 p.m., the marching bands stopped their drums and the joyous crowd hushed as the announcers called for a moment of silence “to remember those who could not be with us.” It was a solemn moment that brought to mind the AIDS epidemic, hate crimes, and the recent rise in suicides of LGBT teenagers.
For those of you who missed this year’s parade, I would definitely recommend attending Pride next year — nowhere else will you find an event that combines serious political action with pure rainbow happiness. A word from the wise: don’t forget your sunscreen.
See these 10 photo highlights from Gay Pride Parade 2012.