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Pride March in Manhattan draws millions of spectators

Participants ride motorcycles on Fifth Avenue during the

Participants ride motorcycles on Fifth Avenue during the NYC Pride March on Sunday. Credit: Charles Eckert

This story was reported by Vincent Barone, Michael O'Keeffe, Li Yakira Cohen, Liam Quigley and Ivan Pereira. It was written by O'Keeffe.

Manhattan streets looked like rivers of rainbows Sunday as millions of revelers poured into New York to cheer the city’s massve Pride March and to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.

Organizers said 150,000 people marched or rode on 150 floats along the parade route that passed the Stonewall Inn, the New York City AIDS Memorial and other gay landmarks before it wrapped up at West 23rd Street and Seventh Avenue. Millions of spectators, many wrapped in rainbow flags and waving signs, cheered and danced during the world’s largest LGBTQ celebration. 

“It’s so incredibly joyful and full of love and life,” said spectator Alex Domaszowec, 22, of Albany, who attended the parade with his boyfriend and his mother. “I’m just excited to be here and spend it with people who love love.”

By mid-morning, hundreds of people packed Christopher Street to be near the Stonewall Inn, where gay people frustrated with police harassment clashed with cops in 1969, igniting the modern gay rights movement. Those protesters included activists Marlene Lorraine, 76, and Kathleen Wakeham, 71, of Manhattan, who returned to the streets Sunday, this time to celebrate Pride and to advocate for LGBTQ rights. 

“We were young then, filled with energy and ambition, and we wanted to be seen," Lorraine said, recalling the activism of 1969. "Now we're seen all over the world."

Maria Motisi, 20, of Queens, carried a sign that said “free hugs” and said business had been brisk. 

“A lot of people have not been accepted in society and I think just letting them know that they’re loved and they can have free hugs is so important,” she said. 

Motisi, who identifies as bisexual, said she has not felt accepted by her family.

“My parents haven’t accepted it as well as I would have liked them to,” she said. “It’s important for me to embrace myself and for everyone else to embrace themselves. Love yourself. You’re perfect the way you are.” 

Some of the biggest cheers of the day were for the Stonewall Inn float. Mobs shouted at the tops of their lungs and danced as the float passed by, blasting disco hits.

Dominique Jackson, Mj Rodriguez and Indya Moore of “Pose,” the FX series that features a large  cast of transgender actors, were among the parade’s grand marshals, along with members of the Gay Liberation Front, the group created after the Stonewall rebellion that helped stage New York’s first Pride March in 1970. 

Chris Frederick, the executive director of NYC Pride, said the rights of transgender people are heavy on the minds of those involved in organizing the march.

"Pride provides a platform that brings these issues to the forefront on a massive scale," he said. "If you’re looking at how this current administration is chipping away at, not just trans rights, but all of us through court appointments and policy, we are in a dangerous era right now."

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a bill along the parade route that bans “gay panic” defense in New York state as LGBTQ activists cheered. The bill bars defendants from claiming they committed murder because of the victim’s sexual orientation. 

“New York has always been at the heart of the LGBT equality movement,” the governor said. 

Sen. Chuck Schumer marched with his daughter Alison, who married her wife Biz Weiland in November. Mayor Bill de Blasio, fresh off his performance in the Democratic presidential debates last week, stopped at 18th Street to greet 95-year-old Francis Gordin, who held a sign that said, “I adore my lesbian daughters. Keep them safe.”  

“He said thank you,” Gordin  said. “It was wonderful.”

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising was “very personal for me.” 

“As a closeted, suicidal teenager from a small town, I’d never thought I’d live in New York City during this, and be the speaker during the 50th anniversary of Stonewall,” Johnson said 

Thousands of other LGBTQ community members marched in the Queer Liberation March, sponsored by the Reclaim Pride Coaltion, which believes the annual Pride March has become overpoliced and dominated by corporate interests. The alternative march ended in a rally in Central Park, where the crowd cheered amid chants of “sex work is work” and calls to be “unapologetically left” in their struggle.  

Activists Lorraine and Wakeham, on the Pride March route, said the LGBTQ community has made huge strides since they took to the streets in 1969, but there is a lot more work to be done. 

“We also need stronger gay rights," Wakeham said. “It’s not enough that we have gay marriage.”

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