Pride parade steps off in New York under Orlando’s shadow

US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (centre) greet people as she marches with Reverend Al Sharpton (C-R) and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo (C-L), in the 46th annual New York City Gay Pride Parade in New York, New York, USA, on
US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (centre) greet people as she marches with Reverend Al Sharpton (C-R) and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo (C-L), in the 46th annual New York City Gay Pride Parade in New York, New York, USA, on June 26, 2016. PHOTO: EPA
A man poses for a friend's photograph near a memorial to the victims of the Orlando shooting, outside the Stonewall Inn in New York, US on June 24, 2016.
A man poses for a friend's photograph near a memorial to the victims of the Orlando shooting, outside the Stonewall Inn in New York, US on June 24, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Millions of people draped in the rainbow hues of LGBT pride turned out for an annual parade through New York on Sunday (June 26), two weeks after a mass shooting in a Florida nightclub stirred fear and solidarity among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. 

A subdued but angry mood dominated as marchers stepped off at noon near the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan en route to Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the gay rights movement. 

It was the first of a string of parades on Sunday in US cities such as Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco. Police had stepped up security to counter any threats and reassure wary parade-goers. 

The tone this year was in sharp contrast with the joy that emanated from the 2015 pride events, which came days after the US Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage across the country.

“I’ve been so heartbroken and outraged by Orlando,” said Dorothee Benz, 50, who was marching with a group called
New York Supports Orlando. “We need to be out loud and proud more than ever, but it comes with mourning and anger.”

Two weeks ago, a gunman pledging allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.  Some 2 million spectators were expected to line the route of New York’s parade, an annual event since 1970.

Police beefed up security this year with helicopter and maritime patrols and an increased presence of uniformed and plainclothes officers. 

In a special tribute to the massacre victims, the lead float in New York’s parade is carrying Pulse owner Barbara Poma and the club’s entertainment manager, Neema Bahrami. 

All told, organizers said the parade would feature 2,000 marchers and 85 floats, most of them adorned with the LGBT rainbow.  The color orange, which has come to symbolise the Orlando victims, was ubiquitous.

Many people wore orange bandanas or carried flags with orange stripes as an expression of outrage over gun violence in America.  Adding to the occasion, President Barack Obama designated the Stonewall Inn as a national monument on Friday, the first to specifically honour the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. 

The bar was the scene of a 1969 police raid that triggered riots and an impromptu rally that ignited a long struggle to bring LGBT people into the US mainstream and guarantee their rights. 

GAYS AGAINST GUNS

Gun control and the prevention of gun violence have emerged as prominent themes in pride events this year, with the Orlando slayings putting them near the top of the national political agenda. 

Among the New York marchers were three men from Gays Against Guns, or GAG, a group that was formed since the Orlando shootings. “We realized that in different facets, the gay community has been supporting common-sense gun laws for a long time, but it has never organized as a gay community,” said Chris Arruda, 50, a post-production supervisor for television.

Carrying a sign reading “NRA prepare to GAG,” a reference to the National Rifle Association, Arruda wore a pink triangle on his bare chest, an emblem that the Nazis forced homosexuals to wear before and during World War Two.  

New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said last week that the city knew of no specific threats against the weekend events.  Even so, the NYPD said it assigned additional police officers to the parade, some equipped with radiation-detection devices and explosive-detecting dogs. 

The area is being monitored by cameras, helicopters and officers posted on rooftops, stationed in the subway system and on vessels patrolling the Hudson River.  Other US cities with pride events scheduled this weekend include Oklahoma City, Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Omaha, Nebraska.