NEW YORK (AP) – Fifth Avenue is rarely as quiet as it was on June 29 just before one of the world’s biggest, most boisterous gay pride parades stepped off under a burst of rainbow-hued balloons.
Awaiting the annual pride march, thousands of people suddenly hushed and the music stopped for a moment of silence to remember those who died of AIDS.
Then the bands played on as marchers gay and straight, bisexual and transgender, young and old filled the avenue all the way to Greenwich Village – following a lavender line painted from midtown Manhattan to the West Village. There, they passed by the Stonewall Inn, where the nation’s gay rights movement began in 1969 with an uprising against a police raid.
Rights have come a long way since then, said David Knapp, holding up a parade sign that read, “88-year-old Boy Scout leader kicked out for being gay.”
“I campaigned for 20 years to achieve what we have today,” said Knapp, noting that boys who say they’re gay can join the Scouts, but not anyone over 18. “It’s still not OK.”
The parade started hours after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a major state initiative against HIV and AIDS.
New York state can end its three-decade HIV crisis by the year 2020, Cuomo said June 29 as he outlined an ambitious plan to deliver a knockout blow to the epidemic by boosting testing, reducing new infections and expanding treatment.
Waves of cheers greeted the governor, praised for pioneering marriage equality. Same-sex marriage in New York became legal on July 24, 2011.
“I’m so proud to be the governor of the state that passed marriage equality,” he said. “So there’s a lot of pride in being a New Yorker in the Pride Parade.”
Laura Moore was “illegally married” already in 1998, as her parade sign said.
“We had a big wedding,” said Moore, adding that she and her partner later married under New York law.
Other top officials walking June 29 included Mayor Bill de Blasio. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer and city Public Advocate Letitia James.
It was a hot summer day in New York, and basics were on hand to fuel the feast _ like water.
In front of the Marble Collegiate Church, members staffed an assembly line of water cups filling trays offered to marchers as they passed by.
The Dutch Reformed Church was a pioneer in sponsoring gay rights, serving water to parade participants since 1997.
“Hospitality then was unheard of when marchers were harassed and heckled,” said the Rev. Shari K. Brink, the church’s executive minister. “We got there before a whole lot of other folks, and now, we’re focusing on international LGBT rights, because every time there’s a step forward, there’s a backlash.”
The New York parade was among the largest being held around the world.
The grand marshals were transgender actress and activist Laverne Cox, actor Jonathan Groff and Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Following them were cousins Yaseena Oatis, 20, and Shayna Melendez, 22, of Plainfield, New Jersey.
“We’re walking to celebrate, to be embraced being who we are around people who are like us, free to express ourselves,” Oatis said. “Everybody has a different story about how they came out as gay, but we’re all here.”
Though there’s much to celebrate, “we still have so much to do,” said longtime national activist Cathy Renna. “LGBT people are not protected in the workplace, far too many LGBTQ youth are still rejected by their families, HIV continues to ravage some of the most vulnerable parts of our community and we must raise our voices against injustice in other countries where LGBT people are in danger simply because of who they love.”