Pride parades began Sunday in New York City and across the country, with glittering confetti, cheering crowds, fluttering rainbow flags, and newfound fears about losing liberties won through decades of activism.
The annual marches in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and other cities took place just two days after one conservative Supreme Court justice signaled in an abortion ruling that the court should reconsider the right to same-sex marriage recognized in 2015.
“We’re here to make a statement,” said Mercedes Sharpe, 31, of Massachusetts, who traveled to Manhattan.
Thousands of people lined the parade route through Manhattan, many dressed in pride colors, cheering as floats and marchers passed by. This weekend, organizers announced that a Planned Parenthood contingent would march at the front of the parade.
In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the Supreme Court decision a “momentary setback,” adding that the events on Sunday were “an opportunity for us to not only celebrate Pride, but be resolved for the fight.”
“We will not live in a world, not in my city, where our rights are taken away or rolled back,” said Lightfoot, Chicago’s first openly gay mayor and the city’s first Black woman mayor.
Some marchers and spectators in San Francisco carried signs condemning the Supreme Court’s abortion decision. The large turnout, according to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who rode in a convertible holding a gavel and a rainbow fan, is proof that Americans support gay rights.
The Supreme Court’s warning shot came after a year of legislative defeats for the LGBTQ community, including the passage of laws in some states restricting the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity with children.
As anti-gay sentiments resurface, some advocate for the parades to revert to their roots, with fewer blocks-long street parties and more overtly civil rights marches.
“It has gone from being a statement of advocacy and protest to being much more of a celebration of gay life,” Sean Clarkin, 67, said of New York City’s annual parade while drinking at Julius’, one of Manhattan’s oldest gay bars in Greenwich Village.
According to his recollection, the parade was once about defiance and standing up to an oppressive mainstream that saw gays, lesbians, and transgender people as unworthy outsiders.
“As satisfying and empowering as being accepted by the mainstream may be,” Clarkin said, “there was also something energizing and wonderful about being on the outside looking in.”
The first Pride March in New York, then known as the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, took place in 1970 to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion, a spontaneous street uprising sparked by a police raid on a gay bar in Manhattan.
The first march in San Francisco was in 1972, and it has been held every year since, with the exception of the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Celebrations are now held all over the world throughout the year, with many of the largest parades taking place in June. One of the world’s largest was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on June 19.
This year’s celebrations in the United States take place in the midst of a potential crisis.
In a concurring opinion in a Supreme Court ruling on abortion on Friday, Justice Clarence Thomas said the court should also reconsider its 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage and a 2003 decision striking down laws criminalizing gay sex.
Jackie English, a New York City parade spectator, said she and her fiancee Dana have yet to set a wedding date but have a new sense of urgency.
“We feel a little pressured now,” she admitted, adding that they might “jump the gun a little sooner.” “What if that right is taken away from us?”
More than a dozen states have recently enacted laws that harm LGBTQ communities, including a Florida law that prohibits any mention of sexual orientation in school curricula and threats of prosecution for parents who allow their children to receive gender-affirming care in Texas.
Several states have passed laws prohibiting transgender athletes from participating in team sports that correspond to their gender identity.
Members of the LGBTQ communities were more likely than any other group to face harassment, according to an Anti-Defamation League survey released earlier this week. Two-thirds of respondents said they had been harassed, with slightly more than half saying it was because of their sexual orientation.
In recent years, schisms have emerged over how to commemorate Stonewall, spawning splinter groups events that are more protest-oriented.
The Queer Liberation March, which takes place concurrently with the traditional parade in New York City, bills itself as a “antidote to the corporate-infused, police-entangled, politician-heavy Parades that now dominate pride celebrations.”
The parade in San Francisco saw the return of uniformed police officers, who were banned in 2020 following a 2019 clash with protesters who staged a parade-stopping sit-in. They were accused of using excessive force by critics. On Sunday, San Francisco Police Chief William Scott, dressed in full uniform, distributed small rainbow pride flags to onlookers.
Despite the criticism of growing commercialism, there was a strong streak of activism among this year’s attendees.
“The recent overturning of Roe v. Wade has caused a very strong uproar about what happened,” said Dean Jigarjian, 22, who crossed the river with his girlfriend from New Jersey to participate in the New York City parade. “As you can see here, the crowd appears to be very excited about what may come next.”