MANHATTTAN (CN) — A fearless yet mournful crowd flooded Manhattan’s streets for the nation’s largest gay-pride march on Sunday to honor the 49 victims killed in the Orlando shooting. Even presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton made a surprise appearance.
The march fell two weeks to the day of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, at the gay bar Pulse in Orlando, but that didn’t stop or scare New York revelers.
The parade kicked off at noon with the traditional “dykes on bikes,” followed by a cadre of marchers carrying orange flags emblazoned with rainbow designs to pay homage to the victims.
“No fears,” said one reveler who came from Orlando. Chris M., as he asked to be identified, said the gay community in Orlando is “upbeat,” despite the tragedy, and that “everybody’s going crazy.”
“Fear is not an option,” added fellow reveler Brian Kelly, 42, from Rockland County, N.Y., who came as a volunteer for the 1-mile Pride March that starts at 5th Avenue and 36th Street then wends its way south to end at Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. A gay bar that was the site of riots after a police raid in 1969, Stonewall is considered to be the birthplace of the gay rights movement.
“I need to be here,” said Theresa Pierno, president and CEO for the National Parks Conservation Association, which was instrumental in helping to make the Stonewall Inn the first national park site in the nation to honor the LGBT community last week.
“You can’t let fear take over,” Pierno added when asked if she was nervous to attend the event in the wake of the mass shooting.
Stonewall became a makeshift vigil in the wake of the Orlando shooting. Outfitted with flowers, candles and balloons, the iconic watering hole has also clamped down on security, and asks that visitors don’t bring large bags to the site for safety.
One of the three grand marshals of the event, Cecilia Chung, a transgender woman living with HIV for 20 years, told the media that she was ready to “really take a look back on an all the advances that have happened in our community.”
But she cautioned: “There are still things that we need to work harder on.”
The senior strategist at the Transgender Law Center also lauded the advances made on federal protections for gender identity, civil rights protections and federal marriage equality, but encouraged the crowd to “work harder” on other issues impacting the community.
“For instance,” Chung said, “gay and bisexual men and transsexual women are still bearing the brunt in this country for HIV epidemics.”
“It’s been 35 years, and we [we have] yet to know when we’re going to get a cure,” she added.
“We have a message for the world,” Chung cautioned to those under the age of 30. “We are not going to hide in the shadow. HIV is still ravaging our communities.”
One of the other grand marshals of the parade to speak at the rally was Jazz Jennings, a trans 15-year-old who became the youngest person to ever be named as the march’s grand marshal.
“For to me pride is about loving yourself … and sharing that life with the community around you,” Jennings said.
“We must be able to overcome the struggles that we face and understand that it’s hard for us,” the teen added.
Rounding out the grand marshals was Subhi Nahas, a Syrian refugee who founded the first gay magazine in Mawaleh in 2005. “I’m from Syria, and I’m one of the few lucky ones who made it here to safety to America,” Nahas added, giving a glimpse to the Islamic State’s terror.
He added that it meant a lot to him to be able to represent those in North Africa and other struggling countries to be out, loud and proud in the face of Islamic radicalism.
London and Chicago also celebrated Pride over the weekend to hold rallies to honor the victims in the shooting.
The Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, herself a former first lady, secretary of state and U.S. senator, made a surprise appearance by marching her way for a few blocks to Stonewall Inn to support the gay community.
She turned up out of the blue, and in blue, with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for her short walk.
That same day, Cuomo signed an executive order to establish an LBGT Memorial Commission to honor the fight for equal rights and all victims of hate.
He also announced an expansion of government benefits for poor New Yorkers living with HIV.
New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio also was on hand for the march. “Everything we have asked for in terms of the day to celebrate everything this city stands for: to celebrate the most vibrant LGB community anywhere in the country; to celebrate a city that believes in respect for all people and inclusion,” de Blasio said in a statement.
De Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to identify as a lesbian.
Also over the weekend, the Gay Officers Action League, which also marched in the parade, issued a statement of strength and condolences to the gay community the families of victims killed in Orlando.
“We ask that you do not cower in the face of adversity and hate” they said on their website. “Instead, please live a life of significance and show our strength and solidarity at the 2016 Heritage of Pride in Manhattan.”
The nation’s largest police department also made sure to make note of its new rainbow-themed police cruisers with slogans supporting the victims and the gay community over the weekend through several social-media sites.
The department also emphasized that there would be “additional manpower and counterterrorism units assigned to the pride” in the wake of the attacks in Orlando.
“Be vigilant, be safe, and ‘if you see something, say something,” the department urged on its website.
The Pride festival ended without a hitch and was punctuated with a fireworks show late Sunday night.
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