WorldPride NYC and the Stonewall 50 Anniversary Weekend officially kicked off Wednesday, June 26, drawing thousands of revelers to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
The ticketed fundraising event brought LGBTQ community leaders and luminaries to the stage, led by host and native New Yorker Whoopi Goldberg, who welcomed about 8,000 attendees to the first-ever WorldPride in the US.
Goldberg launched the evening by introducing headliner Cyndi Lauper, who emerged from a larger-than-life-size globe singing “True Colors” with a team of dancers. Lauper was among a dazzling lineup of LGBTQ and ally singers, activists, actors, and drag performers — including headliners Chaka Khan, Ciara, Daya, Todrick Hall, Sara Ramirez, and queens famous from “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
All performed in celebration, with continual reminders of the vital work ahead to secure international LGBTQ civil rights.
“Can you think of a better place for the first US WorldPride than New York City?,” Goldberg asked. “Because this is where is Pride was born. And nobody does Pride better than we do. And remember: This isn’t just the first US WorldPride. This is also the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. For all you young-uns out there — that is the beginning of Pride. It has been 50 years! Think about how much body glitter that is. How many times have you heard ‘It’s Raining Men’ in 50 years?”
She continued “But we all know that Pride isn’t just about the party. We have Pride because so many strong and frustrated queer people got loud enough and brave enough to say Stop! Stop! Stop!”
Between acts, documentary videos recapped some of the LGBTQ community’s achievements, as well as background about the three non-profit groups benefitting from the night’s net proceeds.
They include SAGE (sagenyc.org), the country’s largest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ older adults; the Ali Forney Center (aliforneycenter.org), the nation’s largest agency housing and helping LGBTQ homeless youths; and Immigration Equality (immigrationequality.org), America’s leading LGBTQ immigrant rights organization, advocating for people from around the world fleeing violence, abuse, and persecution because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status.
Goldberg’s hosting embodied much of what New Yorkers and global citizens are feeling this month — a balance of unabashed pride, mixed with deep concerns about the future.
“The Stonewall Uprising led to five days of protest,” she said. “And you know what? We are still protesting.”
Among many moments of remembrance, the Opening Ceremony brought to the stage members of the Gay Liberation Front, the group that established the annual June Pride March in 1970. Also honored were transgender activist and Transgender Pride Flag creator Monica Helms; as well as Phyll Opoku-Gyimah (aka Lady Phyll), who leads the UK Black Pride celebration and protest.
Each of them were 2019 NYC Pride grand marshals, along with the cast of TV show “Pose,” represented by Billy Porter (Pray Tell), Dominique Jackson (Elektra), Indya Moore (Angel), and Mj Rodriguez (Blanca).
At the opening, performer Sara Ramirez sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as the crowd applauded two dozen LGBTQ community organizers and activists from New York and beyond. Among them was Andrea Jenkins, the first out transgender African-American woman elected to public office in the United States, serving since January 2018 on the Minneapolis City Council.
Others who helped inaugurate WorldPride NYC included the first out gay NBA player Jason Collins; City Council Speaker Corey Johnson; SAGE volunteer Lujira Cooper; Ali Forney founder and executive director Carl Siciliano; NYC Pride executive director Chris Frederick; and representatives from Interpride, the parent organizer of WorldPride.
Deep into the evening, the stage was graced by actor and activist Laverne Cox, who declared, “As a proud, black transgender woman of color I stand before you, and in humble homage to my mothers and sisters who came before me. I stand here because of Sylvia Rivera. I stand here because of Marsha P. Johnson. And I also stand here for those who cannot.”
She continued, “I stand here for those whose lives were cut short by violence and discrimination. I stand here so they know their lives are deeply valued. Can we invite their spirit to enter this space tonight? To permeate our beings and to fortify our souls, here and now. To continue to fight, to continue to love, and to continue to answer the very highest calling of our shared humanity. We are here to remember 50 years of Stonewall. We are here — and you know we ain’t going nowhere!”
The night’s sharpest performances came from the sequence of five drag queens, which Goldberg introduced as “my personal drag race fantasy.” The “RuPaul’s Drag Race” showstoppers were Alaska Thunderfuck, Yvie Oddly, Shangela, Alyssa Edwards, and Bob the Drag Queen.
Yet even as she spotlighted the dazzling entertainment, Goldberg kept returning to the political significance behind Pride.
“There have always been forces fighting against the LGBTQ community,” she said. “But you can’t stop Pride. The LGBTQ community has always been stronger than any hate that’s been thrown at them. So many of our brothers and sisters have been brave enough to fight for the right to be here, be proud, and be human. So don’t forget that you are standing on their shoulders.”
Goldberg continued, “Because of this community, Pride has grown into the incredible worldwide phenomenon we know today. But we have to keep it real. Pride doesn’t just happen on its own. NYC Pride is an amazing 501(c)(3) non-profit that puts this together. It’s more than just a parade and party — their true purpose is to keep us visible, make us stronger, and celebrate who we are. Just by being here tonight, you continue to help the community.”
Goldberg’s call to action went beyond Pride Season.
“The easiest thing we can do is at our fingertips: Get out and vote, because 2020 is nigh! Scream it from the mountaintops, baby. You want change? Remember how you feel tonight. Get out and vote!”
Kelsy Chauvin is a writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, specializing in travel, culture, and LGBTQ interests. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kelsycc.