Pride mixes with politics in New York City march

NEW YORK – The estimated 1.5 million participants in the June 27 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride March here celebrated the past but kept an eye on the future. While the atmosphere was festive, with rainbow flags and music, the importance of the November elections was seen everywhere.

This year’s march celebrated the past year’s victories in the struggle for marriage equality. Recently married same-sex couples were cheered as they marched past the crowds along Fifth Avenue.

Before the march began, approximately 60 couples took part in the fourth annual commitment ceremony hosted by The Wedding Party. The wedding ceremony, while not legally marrying the couples involved, was officiated by New York City Council member Margarita Lopez. Lopez, an open lesbian, declared that under her office, she is bound by the Constitution’s guarantees of equality, and as such must recognize same-sex marriage.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, spoke to the couples and their supporters before the ceremony. He called on people to use their power as voters to make change, saying, “Let us celebrate today and then go to work. New York should lead, not lag.”

The attitude of the march that followed kept up that sentiment. Human Rights Campaign marchers wore yellow T-shirts calling on people to vote. In addition to marching bands and politicians and even police officers, the Communist Party USA and Young Communist League had a contingent, marching with “Drop Bush” banners (see sidebar). As they went by, those in the crowd cheered. In the narrow streets of Greenwich Village, the crowd’s chanting of “No more Bush” echoed loudly.

“Our official participation is long overdue,” said Sam Webb, CPUSA national chair, during the march. “For years, our party has to an extent neglected the LGBT movement. However, we are changing that.” The CPUSA in 2001 changed its constitution “to address the needs of the LGBT population as an oppressed group and an important part of the coalition that will lead this country forward to defeat Bush – and further,” Webb said.

In her remarks to the wedding party group, Stephanie Jelley, with her wife Michele by her side, said “Through ignorance and prejudice, Mr. Bush and his administration have [brought] the forbidden subject of gay marriage into every American home.” She ended her speech by urging everyone to register and vote.

While the issue of same-sex marriage was a main point of celebration and future struggle, those at the march also focused on the issues of HIV/AIDS and hate crimes. The Pride March is the largest annual parade in New York City and is the culmination of a week of related activities. Pride marches were also held in San Francisco, Chicago, and many other cities in the U.S. and around the world.

The author can be reached at jbarnett@pww.org.