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GLBT Americans
celebrate a weekend of pride

GLBT Americans
celebrate a weekend of pride


Undeterred by recent setbacks in the push to legalize same-sex marriage, tens of thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender attendees marched in gay pride parades Sunday in San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, Toronto, Seattle, Atlanta, and other cities nationwide.

Undeterred by recent setbacks in the push to legalize same-sex marriage, tens of thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender attendees marched in Sunday's 35th annual gay pride parade in San Francisco. They were joined by fellow revelers in New York, Chicago, Toronto, Seattle, Atlanta, and other cities in celebrating the event that comes during a tough period for gay rights advocates. A bill to legalize same-sex marriage died in the California assembly, and many states have passed or are pursuing laws outlawing same-sex marriage. "I'm here to let the rest of the world know that we're here and we want to be seen," said Clarence Smelcer, 43, an AIDS activist watching the San Francisco parade. "This is what we do, and this is part of who we are," he said. "We're part of everyone's lives, and the parade is a wonderful way to show it." Gay pride is a virtual holiday in San Francisco. This year thousands gathered early for the parade, including men in kilts sporting rainbow-color wigs, cross-dressers in kimonos, and straight couples waving rainbow flags. The parade opened with a blocks-long contingent of Dykes on Bikes--lesbians dressed in leather driving loud motorcycles. Participants also included a bearded man in a wedding gown singing Madonna's "Like a Virgin," a gay and lesbian marching band, and a group of parents and friends of lesbians and gays. And there were subtle reminders of the struggles ahead. Many in the crowd wore stickers that read, "We All Deserve the Freedom to Marry." Jorge Vieto Jr., who wore leather chaps, called the parade the legacy of the 1969 Stonewall riots, a series of fights between gays and police in New York City widely considered the beginning of the gay rights movement. The first commemoration of Stonewall and parade for gay rights was held in 1970. "Anytime you have a big group of people screaming and hollering, people will pay attention," said Vieto, 27, who left Costa Rica because of discrimination against gays. "Marriage should be an equal opportunity, not a heterosexual right." Ming Chan, 33, and Steve Ribisi, 34, watched the parade with their 18-month-old son, Joshua. They said many Americans would view their sexuality as a threat but that they simply want the chance to raise their son. "People should see us and know we're going through the same problems as other parents," Chan said. Both men said they are optimistic about gay rights. "It's a tough time in America, but, overall, things in the 21st century will continue to get better," Ribisi said. Activists elsewhere also said they are energized. "People are more fired up this year," said George Estelle, who attended the Atlanta march and organized a parade float by Human Rights Campaign, a gay and lesbian lobbying group. "They're angry that they feel there's been a lot of misrepresentation about them done this year during the elections." In New York, men in button-down shirts outnumbered men in G-strings in a parade participants said was less flamboyant than in past years. "It used to be all drag queens all the time," said Susan Yousem, of suburban Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. "Now it's been sort of mainstreamed--for good or bad. There are a lot of church groups, a lot of families." Anthony Polito, marching in New York with the Stonewall Veterans' Association, remembered "knocking a couple of cops down" during the 1969 rioting. "The cops were not our enemies; they were just doing their jobs," he added. The first Muncie, Ind., pride festival on Saturday drew hundreds of gays, lesbians, and their families for food, music, and fun. "If you had told me 20 years ago that we would have a local pride event, I would have never believed it," said Mike Sullivan, a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation that supported the event. Children were part of a family-friendly atmosphere that organizers of Oklahoma City's gay pride parade say characterized this year's event. Children were abundant at the city's 18th annual Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Intersex Pride Parade and Human Rights March Sunday and the two-day gay pride festival that preceded it. "I think people have made a concerted effort to get out if they are a family in Oklahoma with children," said Dennis McKinney, a board member for Northern Lights Alternative, an HIV/AIDS service provider. "It's just great to be around the kids and see that part of it." Helen Stiefmiller's baby watched the parade from the shade of her stroller. "I have a partner, and we've been together for 13 years, and we have two children. This is a great way to get together and see people we haven't seen in a while and just have a good time," said Stiefmiller, who lives in Norman. And in Conway, Ark., around 300 marchers chanted, "We're here, we're queer, get used to it," while 20 protesters walked away from the parade Sunday without duplicating the unrest of last year's event. The sun-drenched, quarter-mile march and gay rights fair did not avoid all conflict, with two white supremacist groups licensed to protest, but unlike a year ago there were no arrests, no threats, no manure along the parade route, and no complaints about receiving an explicit DVD. "One of the great things about this parade is that last year we had death threats and manure in the streets, and this year we were able to congregate peacefully, without incident," said Rusty Wyrick of North Little Rock, who hoisted a "Proud to Be a Gay American" sign. Last year a Greenbrier man was charged with dumping manure along the parade route, and then two disc jockeys pulling a publicity stunt faced obscenity charges after allegedly giving a sexually explicit DVD to a minor. The biggest controversy this year was a complaint by parade organizers that Mayor Tab Townsell tried to sabotage the event by changing its route last week. "Last year we had to deal with 6,000 pounds of manure. This year we had to deal with manure of a different source," organizer Robert Loyd said. Townsell said the route was changed to reduce interaction between parade supporters and protesters. Along the parade route, Mike Lauden, 24, a student at local University of Central Arkansas, stood next to protesters and briefly shouted slurs. David Lubleu of Ward, a member of Arkansas-based White Revolution, held a sign that read, "You Queers Walk Funny," but quickly distanced himself from Lauden. "I try to be peaceful," said Lubleu, who with Shannon Spring of Lincoln, Ala.-based Aryan Nations said God was using the AIDS virus to punish gays for their sexual behavior. Lauden said he's straight and later said he joined the protesters facetiously. "This parade is a good sign because God's people couldn't bring enough to match the gay people," he said. (AP)

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