A rollicking and festive celebration of acceptance hit Manhattan Sunday — the city’s annual gay pride parade coursed down Fifth Avenue, marked this year by joy but also sadness for the Orlando nightclub victims.
Thousands decked out in rainbow-colored clothing and regalia either watched or walked in the parade, which started in sunsplashed midtown and ended at the place considered the epicenter of the nation’s gay rights movement — Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn.
Peter Rapp, 83, now a North Carolina resident, has lived long enough to see two galvanizing events in the gay and lesbian communities — the 1969 Stonewall riots and the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, two weeks ago.
Rapp said he was inside the Stonewall Inn on that warm June night in 1969 when NYPD officers raided the gay and lesbian bar and riots broke out.
“It was crazy,” Rapp said of the confrontation between police and Stonewall patrons. “The police were raiding all the gay bars and arresting people in drag. When I got outside they were tipping over police cars, throwing bottles. We were out there for three days.”
Nearly five decades later, Rapp, now a nondenominational minister with 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, said the Florida club killings on June 12 have repurposed the LGBT community.
“It’s great to see all these people out here today after the Orlando shooting. We have come together to fight back,” he said. It brought us all back into the fold. We are stronger and better than ever before.”
Like they were in 1969, the NYPD again was out in force Sunday amid a noisy crowd of gays, lesbians, and their supporters.
But the mood Sunday was decidedly different.
NYPD Commissioner William Bratton waved to the crowd as he walked the parade route.
Officers lined the route, some waving rainbow-colored flags. Heavily armed officers — some toting high-powered assault rifles — stood at the ready. A few officers from specialized units fastened rainbow-colored American flags to their helmets.
In fact, the parade was awash in rainbows, either in the form of clothing or flags. Others wore baseball caps with the phrase “Make America Gay Again,” a spoof of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s signature campaign slogan.
Viewers took their places along the parade route early in the afternoon.
Brooklyn resident Adrianne Harris kept with the family tradition of attending the parade despite safety concerns after the Orlando shooting that left 49 clubgoers dead.
She returned to her favorite spot on Christopher Street with her daughter, and granddaughters, London, 6, and Paris, 4.
Both little girls wore white cotton dresses with rainbow lei necklaces. They smiled and twirled in their ruffled dresses, happy with the picnic lunch their grandmother had packed with drinks, snacks and sandwiches.
“We are a family of pride celebrating who we are and being ourselves,” said Harris, 48, a school safety officer at a Bronx middle school.
She said the Orlando shooting was “an isolated incident that was very drastic. We are moving forward but we still have to be cautious.”
Another granddaughter, Lyric Jones, 15, said she has come to the Pride marches since she was 11. She said she finds acceptance at the parade and it is especially encouraging “to see straight people come out and show their support. It’s empowering.”
She said at her school she was disappointed there was no discussion or acknowledgment of the Orlando shooting.
At her grandmother’s school, there was a moment of silence. “Most of the teachers just blocked it out. But my friends and I talked about it and thought it was just disgusting,” she said. “We have to use caution all the time but never too much because we always should have fun.”