War, rain, and rainbows at New York City Pride

Marchers on Fifth Avenue at New York City Pride on June 30, 2024.
Marchers on Fifth Avenue at New York City Pride on June 30, 2024.
Michael Luongo

At times it was the weather and at times it was war. These two circumstances came to the forefront during Heritage of Pride’s (HOP) NYC Pride March, which had a theme of “Reflect. Empower. Unite.” 

Many politicians marched before the main parade, stepping out down Fifth Avenue early. Elected officials who marched included Governor Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James, Mayor Eric Adams, and Councilmember Erik Bottcher. Senator Chuck Schumer, with a contingent in the main parade, proudly told the crow he was the first senator to march in the parade. He voiced support for same-sex marriage and LGBTQ families, mentioning through the megaphone that his daughter Alison Schumer and her wife, Elizabeth Weiland, had a son, Henry.

The change in how some politicians march ahead of the main parade was implemented in 2022. New this year were double rows of stanchions down Fifth Avenue, creating an extra barrier between the crowd and marchers and narrowing the processional space.

All of this commotion every last Sunday in June in New York is to commemorate what happened in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn on Christoper Street. Only days ago, a new Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center opened next door to the Stonewall Inn in a ceremony featuring President Joe Biden.

One spectator, Grey, from Brooklyn, watched the parade from in front of the new visitor center.

“It’s just it’s so iconic and we’ve been waiting so long for this,” Grey said. “It’s just beautiful for New York. We needed this.”

There were many grand Marshals this year, with HOP announcing more than a dozen: Baddie Brooks, DaShawn Usher, Eshe Ukwell, Michelle Visage, Miss Major, Robin Drake, and Raquel Willis.

Grand marshal Miss Major looks on.
Miss Major joins the NYC Pride March in a grand marshal vehicle.Michael Luongo

Willis, a transgender activist and media persona, had been posing with her mother and sister along Fifth Avenue in the shadows of the Empire State Building, waving both a Palestinian flag and the pink, white, and blue transgender flag.

Willis expressed honor and gratitude regarding her role as grand marshal, describing a long journey to be on New York City’s premiere processional route.

“I am a Black trans woman from the south from Augusta, Georgia,” Willis said. “And so, it’s wild to have this acclaim on my work and on my presence. I never would have imagined, as a kid, that I would be able to live so freely and walk through the streets so confidently. But I’m able to do that because of all of our ancestors who fought before, the ones at the Stonewall Inn, the ones before the Stonewall riots, and beyond. And I just want to be a bridge between their work and the work of the next generations.”

Grand Marhsal Raquel Willis embraces the crowd.
Grand Marshal Raquel Willis embraces the crowd.Michael Luongo

When it comes to Pride, Willis said, there is no way to discuss it without talking about resistance against state violence and brutality.

“Queer and trans people have been criminalized throughout time in the US and beyond,” Willis said. “And so, when I think about the fight for queer and trans liberation, I know that it’s tied to everyone facing the brunt of oppression. And I’m thinking, of course, about our family in Gaza, and in Palestine, who have had their lives just shattered, stolen in the name of white supremacy, and so many other systems. And so, it’s all tied together for me, state violence that has to end. We have to be invested in lives and divest from death. Period.”

The impact of another war was on the mind of Maxim Ibadov of the group RUSA LGBTQ+, based in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Ibadov placed Brighton Beach Pride flags on the side of a truck plastered with the names of countries of the former Soviet sphere and draped with a giant blue and yellow banner declaring solidarity with Ukraine.

“The war is really dividing the community and a lot of LGBTQ people in Russia are usually the ones that lean more democratic, liberal, and usually they are the opposition leader,” Ibadov, the group’s Coordinator, told Gay City News. “So a lot of them had to leave the country as soon as the war started, because they knew that homophobic and transphobic laws are going to come soon enough.”

Ibadov was spending Pride Sunday with many marchers who were refugees and asylum seekers participating in their first parade. They voiced concern about Putin’s war on Ukraine — not just for Ukraine and Russia, but for the entire post-Soviet region.

“If Putin wins and conquers Ukraine, non-profits such as Kiev Pride [and] Kharkiv Pride are going to cease to exist,” Ibadov said. “LGBTQ activists in Ukraine are going to be jailed. And it’s going to be a major setback for LGBTQ community in the entire post-Soviet region.”

Showing Pride on Pride Sunday.
Showing Pride on Pride Sunday.Michael Luongo

Creating art in the aftermath of violent extremism was the theme behind a group of marchers from Orlando. They were promoting a new Off-Broadway play called From Here, about the impact on the Florida city from the June 12, 2016 mass killing at the Pulse nightclub. Donald Rupe, founder of Renaissance Theatre Company, told Gay City News the play “is about a lot of things. It’s about chosen family and it’s about Orlando’s response to the Pulse shooting… and how Orlando has changed as a result of the horrific tragedy.”

Donald Rupe dons a shirt showcasing "From Here."
Donald Rupe dons a shirt showcasing “From Here.”Michael Luongo

Orlando was also represented in the form of Disney. They were just one of many corporations tossing bracelets, bags, and fans — which was probably the most popular of all in the steamy late June heat. Other companies included Kiehl’s, Deutsche Bank, Chase, City, Delta, JetBlue, United, and many others.

The broad diversity of groups in New York’s Pride parade reflects both the city’s makeup and the importance of the parade as an outsized symbol in the fight for LGBTQ rights both in the United States and abroad.

This was not lost on one marcher, Sundari The Indian Goddess. Dressed in Indo- Caribbean finery, she was marching with Caribbean Equality Project, a group that works both within the Caribbean and in the diaspora. Sundari told Gay City News, “We continue to face homophobia, transphobia, anti-Blackness, especially in Caribbean countries which still have the buggery law, which is colonial laws, from the British.”

She added that even in the United States, “we have government officials that are creating laws that are combatting our rights. So, it’s a form of visibility for immigrant visibility, for LGBTQ visibility, Brown, Black immigrant visibility, Caribbean visibility of LGBTQ people in this parade today. Visibility is so important right now, more than ever and it’s important to be visible in all of who we are.”

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah's contingent marches along the parade route.
Congregation Beit Simchat Torah’s contingent marches along the parade route.Michael Luongo

Beyond the impact of the Ukraine war, the increasingly ascendant right wing in Europe was also on the minds of some marchers. The same day as the parade, Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party led in France’s preliminary round of parliamentary elections. Italy had also recently elected a right-wing Prime Minister, Georgia Meloni of the Fratelli d’Italia party.

Speaking as he marched with an Italian contingent carrying a banner referring to Italian-American singer Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” lyrics, Riccardo Costa, the first elected openly gay member of the Tri-State area Comite, an Italian government organization representing Italians living abroad, told Gay City News that Meloni has begun to enact legislation “taking back our rights” to limit same-sex marriage recognition, same-sex adoption, and other advances recently made in Italy. The country recently refused to sign a European Union LGBTQ equality document, aligning itself with several conservative countries of the former Eastern Bloc.

Commotion broke out on Christopher Street at about 2:30 p.m., about a block away from Stonewall, when several activists protesting the war in Gaza sat down in front of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) float, blocking its path. Some of the activists smeared themselves with red paint as they sat over banners about freeing Palestine and handed out leaflets.

Protesters sit in front of the Human Rights Campaign float.Michael Luongo

Many in the crowd joined in their melodious chants of “Free, Free Palestine,” and “Shut it Down,” including some on the HRC float, who began to work these words and others into the queer anthems the vehicle was blasting through the narrow street.

New York City police, including at least one adorned with rainbow NYPD Community patches, came to arrest and zip tie the protestors. The police forced most journalists, including this one, out of the area to prevent clear photography of the arrests.

The parade was soon on its way until around 4:30 p.m., when Mother Nature had her own say, pouring rain on the participants and the crowds. People popped open up umbrellas and sought shelter under scaffolding or in numerous Greenwich Village bars.

Preliminary estimates from organizers indicate 25,000 marchers and two million spectators along the route.

That’s a lot of Pride.