NEW YORK (AP) — Thousands of people lined the streets for gay pride parades Sunday in coast-to-coast events that took both celebratory and political tones, the latter a reaction to what some see as new threats to gay rights in the Trump era.
In a year when leaders are anxious about the president’s agenda, parade organizers in New York and San Francisco were more focused on protest. In New York, for instance, grand marshals from the American Civil Liberties Union were chosen to represent a “resistance movement.”
Activists have been galled by the Trump administration’s rollback of federal guidance advising school districts to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. The Republican president also broke from Democratic predecessor Barack Obama’s practice of issuing a proclamation in honor of Pride Month.
At the jam-packed New York City parade, a few attendees wore “Make America Gay Again” hats, while one group walking silently in the parade wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts as they held up signs with a fist and with a rainbow background, a symbol for gay pride. Still others protested potential cuts to heath care benefits, declaring that “Healthcare is an LGBT issue.”
“I think this year is even more politically charged, even though it was always a venue where people used it to express their political perspectives,” said Joannah Jones, 59, from New York with her wife Carol Phillips. She said the parade being televised for the first time gives people a wider audience. “Not only to educate people in general on the diversity of LGBTQ community but also to see how strongly we feel about what’s going on in office.”
Lemon Reimer, a 20-year-old college student from upstate New York, said the sense of community was important.
“I am starting to feel more like I need to have the security of my culture and my people around me to feel protected and safe.” Meanwhile, Kendall Bermudez, a 21-year-old parade-goer from New Jersey, felt empowered by the huge showing there. “I think with all these people here, they’re going to show we’re fighting back and we’re proud of who we are,” she said. “I think we’re going to overcome it and show Trump who’s boss.”
And in Chicago, 23-year-old Sarah Hecker was attending her first pride parade, another event that attracted wall-to-wall crowds. “I felt like this would be a way to not necessarily rebel, but just my way to show solidarity for marginalized people in trying times,” said Hecker, a marketing consultant who lives in suburban Chicago.
Elected officials also made a stand, Sunday, among them New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said his state would continue to lead the way on equality. On Sunday, Cuomo, a Democrat, also formally appointed Paul G. Feinman to the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. Feinman is the first openly gay judge to hold the position.
But the pride celebrations also face some resistance from within the LGBT community itself. Some activists feel the events are centered on gay white men and unconcerned with issues that matter particularly to minorities in the movement, such as economic inequality and policing.
The divide has disrupted some other pride events this month. The No Justice No Pride group blocked the Washington parade’s route, and four protesters were arrested at the parade in Columbus, Ohio.
In Minneapolis, organizers of Sunday’s Twin Cities Pride Parade initially asked the police department to limit its participation, with the chairwoman saying the sight of uniformed officers could foster “angst and tension and the feeling of unrest” after a suburban officer’s acquittal this month in the deadly shooting of Philando Castile, a black man, during a traffic stop.
The city’s openly gay police chief called the decision divisive and hurtful to LGBT officers. On Friday, organizers apologized and said the officers are welcome to march.
But anti-police protesters disrupted the parade with chants of: “No justice, no peace, no pride in police” and carried signs reading “Justice for Philando” and “Black Lives Matter.”
Meanwhile, pride march organizers have taken steps to address the criticisms about diversity.
“The pride celebration is a platform for that dialogue to happen,” San Francisco Pride board president Michelle Meow said this week. The large “resistance contingent” leading San Francisco’s parade includes groups that represent women, immigrants, African-Americans and others along with LGBT people.
New York parade-goers Zhane Smith-Garris, 20, Olivia Rengifo, 19 and Sierra Dias, 20, all black women from New Jersey, said they didn’t feel there was inequality in the movement.
“Pride is for gay people in general,” Dias said.
In some cities, there were scattered counter protests, a small group in New York urging parade-goers to “repent for their sins.” But most of those attending were unified in celebration and in standing up against a presidential administration they find unsupportive.
“This year, especially, it’s a bit of a different atmosphere,” said Grace Cook, a 17-year-old from suburban Chicago who noted the more political tone in this year’s parade, including at least one anti-Trump float. “(Being here) feels more impactful — like something we have to do.”