Tue, Jun 28, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Gay pride marches draw thousands in US and Canada

AP , SAN FRANCISCO

Undeterred by recent setbacks in the push to legalize same-sex marriage, tens of thousands of festively dressed people marched in parades around the US and Canada to celebrate the 35th anniversary of gay pride.

People celebrated in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta and Toronto on Sunday, though the event comes during a tough period for gay rights advocates. A bill to legalize same-sex marriage died this year in the California Assembly, and many US states have passed or are pursuing constitutional amendments outlawing gay marriage.

"I'm here to let the rest of the world know that we're here and we want to be seen," said Clarence Smelcer, 43, an AIDS activist watching the San Francisco parade. "We're part of everyone's lives and the parade is a wonderful way to show it."

Gay pride is a virtual holiday in San Francisco and thousands gathered early for the parade, including men in kilts and rainbow-colored wigs, cross-dressers in kimonos and heterosexual couples waving rainbow flags.

The parade opened with a blocks-long contingent of "Dykes on Bikes" -- lesbians dressed in leather driving loud motorcycles. Participants also included a bearded man in a wedding gown singing Madonna's Like a Virgin, a marching band and a group of parents and friends of lesbians and gays.

The annual pride parades commemorate the Stonewall uprising of 1969, a series of fights between gays and police in New York widely considered the beginning of the gay rights movement. The parades began the next year in 1970.

There were also subtle reminders in the celebrations on Sunday of the struggles ahead. Many in the San Francisco crowd wore stickers that read, "We All Deserve The Freedom to Marry."

"Anytime you have a big group of people screaming and hollering people will pay attention," said Jorge Vieto Jr, 27, who left Costa Rica because of discrimination against gays. "Marriage should be an equal opportunity, not a heterosexual right."

"People are more fired up this year," said George Estelle, who attended the Atlanta march and organized a float by Human Rights Campaign, a lobbying group. "They're angry that they feel there's been a lot of misrepresentation about them done this year during the elections."

In New York, men in button-down shirts outnumbered men in G-strings in a parade some said was less flamboyant -- but still politically relevant. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer were among the marchers.

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