Pride Parades: U.S. Cities Mark Events Amid Tight Security

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NYPD vehicle at the city's pride parade. (Image: PIX11)

NYPD vehicle at the city’s pride parade. (Image: PIX11)

(CNN) — Millions marched across the nation Sunday to celebrate annual LGBT parades amid tight security following one of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings at a gay nightclub in Florida.

The memory of the Pulse nightclub shooting loomed large over celebrations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in major American cities, including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Houston.

This time last year, parade-goers were celebrating a major milestone with the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage. This year’s celebrations were marked by tributes to the 49 victims and increased security with the shooting in mind.

While the tone of this year’s events was more muted, supporters said they will take on a special meaning.

“I think it is an act of defiance on one level, to come out and say, ‘We stand by our values: inclusion and love and tolerance,’ ” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN on Sunday.

“There’s a somber feeling obviously, and there’s pain over what happened in Orlando, but the answer is not to run and hide. The answer is to stand up boldly, and that’s what New York City is doing today.”

Elsewhere along the parade route, two members of the FDNY got engaged to cheers from onlookers.

Extra security

Authorities in New York took additional steps this year to ensure security in the wake of the Orlando shooting rampage, New York Police Chief of Patrol Carlos Gomez told CNN.

More than 20,000 people were expected to participate in floats and marches. The NYPD expected the crowd of parade-goers to exceed last year’s estimated size of 1.6 million.

The increased police presence was evident along the parade route from midtown Manhattan to Greenwich Village past Stonewall Inn, which President Obama recently named as the first national monument to LGBT rights. Thousand of uniformed and plain-clothed officers stood watch along the parade route and from rooftops, he said.

Helicopters were deployed along with bomb-sniffing canines as a network of cameras monitored events in adjoining areas, he said.

Additional community emergency response teams carrying heavy weapons and counter-terrorism personnel equipped with radiation detection devices were posted along the route, he said.

“We have greatly increased counter-terrorism efforts to act as a visible deterrence as well as a quick response capability,” he said.

In San Francisco, for the first time, this year’s Pride Fest will include a security checkpoint screening at every entrance, according to CNN affiliate KGO.

“Our hearts are with Orlando. We think of them every day,” San Francisco resident Cory Vaughn told the affiliate. “We have metal detectors, we’re all being safe, but we’re still looking over our shoulders.”

Nationwide events

Amid the increased security, a mix of jubilation and reverence permeated Pride events. Other cities such as London and Milan, Italy, took to the streets Saturday in brightly colored outfits to celebrate and pay tribute to the Orlando victims.

The New York parade kicked off with a moment of silence for Orlando. The City of Orlando marched in the parade carrying 49 flags to commemorate the victims of the attack.

An NYPD car bore the message “Our heart goes out to Orlando.”

Barbara Poma, owner of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, planned to attend New York’s event “as part of the nation’s healing process,” she said on Friday. She hoped the parade would allow members of the LGBT community to comfort each other through love and support.

“Orlando and the world’s gay community are strong and united. We will not allow evil to prevail,” she said.