Fifth Avenue Cheers for Obama

BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | A contingent of Barack Obama backers marching in New York City's gay pride parade drew cheers and applause from spectators along the length of Fifth Avenue.

“The LGBT community is united behind Senator Obama,” said Doug Robinson, one of the Obama contingent organizers as the group waited on 54th Street to join the June 29 parade. “We strongly feel that he is the best candidate…and that because of his record on LGBT issues we feel strongly that, as president, he is going to be a strong leader, not only for our community but also for all communities throughout this country… He represents all of America.”

100 supporters of Illinois senator meet only scattered dissent.

Cheering and hooting, the group of about 100 stepped onto the avenue at roughly 2:30 in the middle of one of the afternoon's two downpours. During their two-and-a-half hour march to the West Village behind two large “Obama Pride” banners, they kept up chants of “Yes we can” and “Tell your momma, vote for Obama.”

While many in the crowd did not respond to the contingent, among those who did the response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic and positive, a reaction that was all the more remarkable given that the presumptive Democratic nominee, an Illinois senator, was not in the parade.

Leading the contingent in a convertible was actress Rue McClanahan who played Blanche Devereaux in “The Golden Girls,” a television comedy. It was not always clear who the crowd was cheering except when McClanahan's driver closed the car top during the rain and she could not be seen – the cheers were for Obama. When McClanahan pulled out of the march at 14th Street there was no doubt who the spectators supported.

“I'm supporting Obama because Obama and Hillary both have the same standpoint to change America,” said Christian Tello, 25. “With Obama and Hillary, they would both change America and make it a better country.”

A 47-year-old lesbian, who declined to give her name, was watching the parade with friends. Though she backed Hillary Clinton, the New York senator, in the Democratic primary, she is now an Obama supporter.

“You gotta back the Democratic Party,” she said. “I thought they were both strong.”

Some unexpected support came as the Obama contingent passed by the Heritage of Pride (HOP) reviewing booth at 23rd Street.

“If you supported Hillary, now is the time to bring it home and vote for Obama,” said the announcer as the group marched by. HOP produces the march, rally, and related pride events.

Even a group of young Chinese tourists reached out for the “Obama Pride” stickers that volunteers were handing out along the sides of Fifth Avenue. While noting that they could not vote for Obama, “We really respect him,” one young woman said. Asked if they would have taken a sticker for John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, the young woman paused and said they probably would.

Below 14th Street, where the crowd is always louder, the pro-Obama chants from spectators were nearly constant until the contingent reached the end of the march at Greenwich Street.

On Christopher Street, one man wearing a shirt reading “Once you go Obama you never go back” jumped to the barricades as the contingent went by yelling, “Read my T-shirt, read my T-shirt.”

There were a handful of dissenters. Marching with Crossdressers International and carrying two signs sporting anti-Obama messages, John David Overton was roughly two hours ahead of the Obama contingent.

“A lot of people don't read up,” he told Gay City News on Fifth Avenue near 54th Street. “He's associated with all sorts of evangelical anti-gay preachers… I see him as pandering to the evangelical vote.”

Later, as the Obama group marched by, Justin Hulse, a 24-year-old Republican, called out McCain's name. Obama was “too new, way too new,” he said.

“I was going to vote for Hillary,” Hulse said. “I've wanted to vote for Hillary for a long time.”

Further down Fifth Avenue, one young Latino man declined to be interviewed as he gave a thumbs down sign to the Obama contingent.

“I don't like his agenda,” is all he said as he stood with several friends. Those friends said, with broad smiles, that the man was now a “former friend” given his position on Obama.

In the West Village, a Clinton supporter belted out, “Fuck Obama” when he spied the contingent. He grabbed a friend and the two chanted, “Hillary, Hillary” in unison as the group marched by.

Soaked and exhausted at the end of the march, the group engaged in one final round of Obama cheers.

“It was a great showing of Obama supporters,” said Tanene Allison, an Obama contingent organizer.