In a mix of solemn remembrances, countless proclamations of “love always wins,” confetti, bikini bottoms, military and police uniforms, showboating motorcyclists, female impersonators in sky-high heels and Jell-O shot fundraisers, the LGBT community used the Stonewall Parade and Festival on Saturday to respond to the tragedy in Orlando.
They did it in the same way they always do: by being themselves.
“We’re having a crazy gay time. It’s love, laughter, life,” Willie Montoya said. “Life’s too short to be afraid.”
That same defiance was on full display throughout the event.
Commissioner Justin Flippen did so from atop the pickup truck he was riding as part of the parade that made its way down Wilton Drive. “I am so proud to be here today with you. In one loud voice . . . we celebrate our community. We stand united.” Ahead of Flippen were 49 individuals dressed in white. Each held a sign with the name and age of one of the victims of the Orlando attack.
For many, those 49 represented the new meaning the event had – a sobering reminder that the LGBT struggle hasn’t ended with the acquisition of many legal rights. “There’s more of a community presence and support than I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been coming here 11 years,” Kimber White said. “There’s more of a solidarity. More of a coming together,” Tom Conklin said.
Even the day’s entertainers paused multiple times to pay homage to Orlando.
“Hold someone’s hand. We can be as corny as we want to be. This is our damn pride,” said blues artist Kat Riggins as she sang “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. “We stand together in love. We stand together proud. We stand together tall. But most importantly, we stand. Change [gay marriage] has already come. I’m so grateful to god I lived to see it.”
The new meaning was also apparent to many of the straight allies who were also in attendance. Broward Sheriff Scott Israel spoke to the crowd gathered in front of the stage at Wilton Drive and Northeast 6 Avenue and called the individuals murdered in Orlando heroes. “You know what Orlando did to Stonewall? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
Chief Paul O’Connell praised organizers and gave a rough attendance estimate of between 15,000 and 20,000. But other than the increased police presence, O’Connell said Stonewall went the way it normally goes: without major incidents. “We thought it went very well. The feedback that we got was that everyone felt safe because the extra police presence.”
For more photos check out our Facebook gallery here.