(WB) Vice President Kamala Harris drew loud cheers and prolonged applause when she and her husband, Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, joined more than 1,000 LGBT participants in D.C.’s Capital Pride Walk on Saturday, June 12, becoming the first U.S. vice president to participate in an LGBT Pride event.
Harris’ appearance at the Pride Walk, which some described as a march, was unannounced and came as a complete surprise to the dozens of onlookers who saw her as well as to leaders of the Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual Pride events.
“Oh my God, I can tell you that I screamed my head off,” said Tiffany Royster, a Capital Pride official who said she saw Harris at the Pride Walk.
“The fact that she showed up for us means that we mean something to her because she wouldn’t have stopped by randomly,” Royster told an NBC 4 News cameraman at Thomas Circle at the conclusion of a separate event on Saturday called the Pridemobile Parade. “We didn’t know she was coming.”
An NBC 4 report showed Harris making brief remarks while walking along 13th Street as the Pride Walk passed the Warner Theater and as it approached Pennsylvania Avenue at Freedom Plaza.
The Channel 4 News report said Harris called for Congress to pass the LGBT rights bill known as the Equality Act and said the Biden administration understands the importance of LGBT rights.
“We need to make sure that our transgender community and our youth are all protected,” she states in the Channel 4 News broadcast. “We need, still, protections around employment and housing,” she told people walking beside her and her husband. “There is so much more work to do, and I know we are committed.”
Harris wore a shirt with the words, “Love is Love” printed on it. Emhoff could be seen wearing a T-shirt with a rainbow-colored design on it.
After walking for a block or two and speaking at the Pride Walk, Harris and Emhoff got back into the vehicle they arrived in and drove past the rally at Freedom Plaza, waving to surprised and cheering onlookers, according to gay Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Mike Silverstein, who saw what he called Harris’ motorcade drive by. Silverstein said Harris and Emhoff did not get out of the car to join the rally, and the vehicle they were in appeared to be driving toward the White House, located a few blocks from Freedom Plaza.
Among those speaking at the rally was D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who received loud applause when she told the crowd that during her travels across the country and abroad, she tells people that D.C. is “the gayest city in America.”
“So, Capital Pride, we have a lot to celebrate,” the mayor told rally attendees, many of whom waved hand-held rainbow Pride flags. “We have a lot to work for still,” she said. “We know that discrimination and violence are real. We know there’s too many guns on the street. And we know when all of us are not safe, none of us are safe,” she said.
“So, I know you’re going to stand shoulder to shoulder with me and I’m going to be with you every step of the way,” she said. “Happy Pride!”
Bowser also announced at the rally that Sheila Alexander-Reid, who has served as director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs since Bowser took office in January 2015, would be leaving that position soon to go on to “bigger and better things.” Alexander-Reid has said she will be joining a company that provides advice and training in the area of workplace non-discrimination based on race, gender, and LGBT-related workplace competency training.
At the conclusion of the rally, about 50 vehicles that had been parked next to and near Freedom Plaza led by a Capital Pride bus decorated with signs and banners began the city-wide Pridemobile Parade.
The route of the parade released by Capital Pride shows it was scheduled to travel through all four quadrants of the city, including neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. Capital Pride organizers said the parade or caravan of vehicles, all of which were decorated with Pride displays, would be passing by homes and businesses in the city’s residential and commercial areas that also were decorated with Pride displays as part of its “Paint the Town Colorful” Pride event.
The Pride Walk began shortly after noon at Dupont Circle and traveled along P Street to Logan Circle, where it proceeded south on 13th Street to Freedom Plaza.
Capital Pride Alliance President Ashley Smith said a little over 1,000 people participated in the walk, which he noted Capital Pride decided to do and first announced less than two weeks before it was to take place.
Smith and Capital Pride Alliance Executive Director Ryan Bos have pointed out that the city announced it would be lifting its more than year-long restrictions on large public gatherings in May, which didn’t give them enough time to pull together a large parade and street festival that have been part of D.C.’s Pride celebrations in the years prior to the COVID pandemic.
“Today has been truly phenomenal,” Smith told the Blade. “The turnout has been amazing. The total number of people that have come to support this and the efforts that we’re trying to do, it’s just been amazing,” he said.
“The community has truly been supportive of all the great work that the team, the staff, the volunteers and board members have been part of,” said Smith.
Bos said people had gathered in the various neighborhoods in the city where the Pridemobile Parade passed in advance of the parade’s arrival and cheered and waved as the vehicles drove by.
“There were kids with their parents and their families just sitting on the sidewalks waiting for the Pridemobile to come by,” Bos said. “It was pretty cool.”
About 100 people were standing or sitting in Thomas Circle, the final destination of the Pridemobile Parade, as it arrived there to loud cheers. The vehicles drove around the circle several times while honking their horns before the parade disbanded.
A smaller crowd waving Pride flags had also gathered on the steps of National City Christian Church, which faces Thomas Circle. Large rainbow-colored banners were hanging from the front of the church, showing its support for the Pride events.
Speakers at the Freedom Plaza rally, in addition to Mayor Bowser, included Smith of Capital Pride; Alexander-Reid; Ben De Guzman, director of the Mayor’s Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs; gay Latino activist Jose Gutierrez, who reflected on the fifth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016 in which 49 mostly LGBT people were killed and 53 wounded; transgender activist Monica Nemeth, who reflected on transgender lives lost to violence in the U.S.; Nancy Canas, president of Latinx Pride; Rehana Mohammed, chair of the board of the D.C. Center for the LGBTQ Community; and June Crenshaw, executive director of the Wanda Alston Foundation, which provides housing for homeless LGBT youth.
Pride celebrations were scheduled to continue on Sunday, June 13, with about a dozen D.C. area restaurants participating in Capital Pride’s Taste of Pride Brunches, which would be raising money for local LGB organizations, according to an announcement on the Capital Pride website. The names and locations of the restaurants can be accessed at capitalpride.org.