NEW YORK – Drag queens in knee-high boots, kids with two dads and New York City's first openly gay city council speaker were among hundreds of thousands attending gay pride parades across the nation, weeks after a vicious attack on a popular gay singer and the 25th anniversary of the start of the AIDS epidemic.
Tens of thousands of spectators lined Fifth Avenue on Sunday for the city's annual parade, withstanding intermittent rain and turning the route into a sea of rainbows with colorful floats and lavish costumes.
"Everyone else has a chance to express their affection freely, and for one day in New York, you can be free and not feel ashamed or embarrassed," said 42-year-old Roberto Hermosilla, from Miami, attending his ninth gay pride parade.
On San Francisco's Market street, thousands of festively dressed people looked on as marching bands, dancers and floats bearing corporate logos streamed by. On one float, a bearded man wearing a white lace miniskirt and fishnet stockings sang Madonna's "Like a Virgin." A half-dozen men dressed in underwear and top hats danced behind him.
The parades also had a political message, with parade-goers bearing slogans about gay marriage, AIDS, and discrimination.
"It's to have a good time, but also to remember the issues out there," said Jane Woodman, 26, in San Francisco. "There's still a lot of work to be done," she said, noting the national debate raging over whether gays should have a legal right to marry.
The New York parade marked the very public and triumphant return of singer Kevin Aviance, who rolled down Fifth Avenue atop a fake pachyderm and a circus-themed float just weeks after the drag queen was viciously beaten and suffered a broken jaw. Police have charged four young men with assaulting the artist while yelling anti-gay slurs.
The theme of New York's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride March was "The Fight for Love and Life," but there was plenty of talk about hate following the Aviance attack. The New York Police Department said reports of anti-gay bias crimes totaled 25 through mid-June — compared with 19 over the same period in 2005.
"A few hateful homophobes will not set us back," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who marched in the parade. In January, Quinn became the first woman and first openly gay person to lead the council.
Organizations that marched in San Francisco included Rocket Dog Rescue, a volunteer group that helps abandoned dogs find homes. One marcher with the group walked with a pit bull that was dressed in a rainbow tutu.
In Ohio on Saturday, thousands gathered for the 25th Stonewall Columbus parade. Michael Eblin, marching in his first parade, followed a black Hummer pulling a float of men.
"For the first time, I'm going to be part of a majority," the 18-year-old Eblin said just before the parade began.
Along the route, protesters held large signs reading, "Homo sex is sin" and "God abhors you," while a boy in blue tie-dye held up another: "2 Moms. 2 Dads. Too Cool."
The parades commemorate the Stonewall uprising of 1969, when gay bar patrons resisted a police raid.