Long Island Pride Parade draws record crowd in Huntington

Christian Plaza, of Newburgh, dances during a performance
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Christian Plaza, of Newburgh, dances during a performance at PrideFest in Huntington on Saturday, June 14, 2014. More than 18,000 people attended the event.(Credit: Steve Pfost)

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They came covered in rainbows: Rainbow shorts, dresses, tutus, flags, bandannas, wigs and body paint dotted the parade route down Main Street in Huntington on Saturday as the 24th annual Long Island Pride Parade rolled through town.

More than 18,000 people took part in the parade, a record year of attendance, said David Kilmnick, CEO of Bay Shore-based Long Island Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Network, which hosts the Pride events. After, the crowd headed to Heckscher Park for an afternoon of entertainment, beer, wine and food at PrideFest.

The biggest excitement came when grand marshal Edie Windsor slowly made her way down Main Street, perched atop a convertible, as fans rushed toward the car to get a closer look and snap pictures. Windsor, 84, is a gay rights icon whose lawsuit led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

"It's very overwhelming in a positive way," said Lisa Cohen, 59, of Huntington, who watched the parade with her wife, Amy Lipton, 56. The couple have been together for 22 years and married 10 years ago in Toronto. "When we saw Edie Windsor, that's when we started to cry. We both lost it."

The Supreme Court's ruling on DOMA last June paved the way for marriage equality across the country. New York made gay marriage legal in 2011.

"Let's hope it keeps getting easier for the next generation," Cohen said, recalling a time when being openly gay came with an element of fear.

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PrideFest brought music until 6 p.m. from such performers as the elaborately painted operatic singer Prince Poppycock, a former "America's Got Talent" contestant, and Long Island native Taylor Dayne.

More than 60 vendors and community organizations set up booths at the festival, and health professionals were on hand to administer HIV/AIDS tests.

"While we're celebrating today and we're joyous, we still need to be reminded that our work is not done," Kilmnick said. "Kids are still at risk for bullying. There's a health disparity with HIV among young gay and bisexual men again, and there's a lot of violence against the transgender community."

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