ABOVE: Organizers said last weekend’s Pride celebration brought out record crowds. (Washington Blade photo by Adam Hall)
Organizers and participants in D.C.’s Capital Pride parade and festival last weekend said the two annual events appear to have drawn more than the expected 400,000 people despite rainy weather during the festival on Sunday.
Observers who have participated in the Capital Pride parade and festival in past years said they have never seen crowds as large as those that lined the 1.5-mile Capital Pride Parade route on Saturday, June 8.
Many noted that the large crowds watching the parade as well as those marching were mindful of the historic occasion marking the 50th anniversary this month of the Stonewall riots in New York that are credited with starting the modern LGBT rights movement.
But Capital Pride organizers and many participants in the weekend events expressed deep disappointment that organizers were forced to abruptly halt the parade about three hours after it began near Dupont Circle following reports that someone brandished a gun inside Dupont Circle.
D.C. police quickly determined that the man that witnesses saw carrying what they thought was a handgun turned out to be holding an unloaded BB gun. Police learned later that the man pulled out the BB gun during an altercation with two other men who he said assaulted his wife next to the Dupont Circle fountain in an incident that had nothing to do with the parade or the hundreds of LGBT people standing in Dupont Circle watching the parade.
In what observers described as a surreal scene of pandemonium and panic, hundreds of people assembled in Dupont Circle, hearing shouts that someone had a gun, ran for their lives in every direction, according to eyewitness accounts.
The fleeing crowd knocked down multiple sections of a metal security fence that police had installed around Dupont Circle for crowd control purposes earlier in the day for the parade, causing crashing sounds that some may have misinterpreted to be gunshots, intensifying the panic.
In the midst of the chaos, D.C. police arrested Aftabjit ‘DJ’ Singh, 38, for the illegal possession of a BB gun among other charges. Police also arrested Melissa Duffy, 43, the woman Singh calls his wife, for allegedly assaulting a police officer after she became irate that police arrested Singh (read an exclusive Washington Blade interview with Singh and Duffy HERE).
Capital Pride spokesperson Cathy Renna said Capital Pride leaders reluctantly decided to stop the remaining contingents from entering the parade route at Dupont Circle after conferring with police.
Among other things, Renna said, police told Capital Pride officials they were still investigating the incident and had designated the west side of Dupont Circle as a crime scene. Ambulances were also arriving on the scene to treat people who were injured while fleeing Dupont Circle and surrounding streets. Police said at least seven people were taken to hospitals with non-life threatening injuries.
“There was absolutely no way that street was going to be secured again for the parade,” said Renna. “And we would never want to create an unsafe space for anyone who was going to be part of the parade,” she said.
“The board, staff and volunteers of Capital Pride gathered just to see what to do,” she said, noting that board members and staff rushed back to Dupont Circle upon learning of the incident. “And it was very clear that we needed to stop the parade immediately,” she said.
Lt. Brett Parson, who oversees the D.C. police LGBT Liaison Unit, said police worked closely with Capital Pride officials to assess the situation and weigh “all options,” including whether it would be possible to resume the parade.
He said that based on the recommendation of police, officials from the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services and the city’s Homeland Security Emergency Management Agency, who were also on the scene, Capital Pride officials made the decision to end the parade for the remaining contingents that had not already traveled past Dupont Circle.
Shortly after the parade started at 4:30 p.m. Renna said she walked up and down the parade route to observe parade participants, including numerous floats, and the crowds that gathered to watch it.
“To me, the parade felt larger than I had ever seen,” she said. “I started at the beginning of the route. I went almost to the end and then I backtracked. I’ve never seen so many spectators on the sidelines,” she said. “It was an extraordinary number of people.”
Among those marching in the parade were D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, and at least 10 members of the D.C. City Council, including Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large).
Also joining the parade were Council members Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), David Grosso (I-At-Large), Robert White (D-At-Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), and Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7).
Similar to past years, the parade’s 240 contingents this year included a wide range of LGBT and LGBT supportive advocacy groups and large and small companies and businesses.
In addition to the parade, a relatively new Pride event took place on Saturday in the increasingly popular Southwest waterfront neighborhood at the Wharf. Pride on the Pier, produced by the Washington Blade and the lesbian events promoting firm LuRE, held its second annual event from 2-9 p.m. featuring multiple DJs and a separate kid-friendly family pier filled with activities.
The events culminated at 9 p.m. with a first-ever Pride fireworks display sponsored by the Blade, LURe, and the Compass real estate company that wowed thousands of spectators along the piers and waterfront area. Organizers reported that 40,000 people turned out for the festivities between 2-9 p.m.
“It was a fantastic success with thousands turning out to enjoy the beautiful weather and to celebrate Pride on the D.C. waterfront,” said Blade marking director Stephen Rutgers. “We look forward to bringing this event back next year.”
Although much of Sunday afternoon, June 9, saw light to occasionally heavy rain, the turnout for the Capital Pride festival and concert on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. near the U.S. Capitol appeared to be as large as last year’s festival and concert, according to Capital Pride observers.
About 300 exhibitors set up booths along Pennsylvania Avenue between 3rd Street, where the main stage was located, and 7th Street. The exhibitors included a wide range of LGBT and LGBT supportive organizations and businesses, food vendors, and local D.C. and federal government agencies.
Among the government agencies present were the D.C. Office of Human Rights and the Office of the D.C. Attorney General, the U.S. Department of State, the CIA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees all U.S. intelligence agencies.
Among the big-name entertainers that performed on the concert stage at the festival were internationally acclaimed American electronic music producer and DJ Marshmello; and fellow headliners Zara Larsson, Todrick Hall, Shea Diamond, Nina West, and Calum Scott.
“We have so much Pride here in the nation’s capital,” said Capital Pride Alliance Executive Director Ryan Bos. “All of the events that began in May proved to be successful and important for our community as we continue to commemorate 50 years since the Stonewall riots,” he said.
“The incident Saturday during the parade was unfortunate and disappointing, but our community rallied, despite the weather on Sunday, to finish out the celebration on a high note,” Bos told the Blade.