NEW YORK (Reuters) – Millions lined the streets of New York on Sunday to wave rainbow flags, celebrate the movement toward LGBTQ equality and renew calls for action in what organizers billed as the largest gay pride celebration in history.
Event organizers and city officials said 150,000 parade marchers and up to 4 million visitors commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising that triggered the modern LGBTQ movement, with corporate sponsorship and police protection that would have been unthinkable half a century ago.
Reuters could not independently verify the crowd estimate.
Similar parades were being held around the world, with celebratory events in liberal democracies and growing fights for equality in other places.
North Macedonia held its first gay pride march on Saturday. In Singapore, marchers called for scrapping a law banning gay sex. In Turkey, members of Istanbul’s gay and transgender community gathered for a small rally that ended with tear gas and rubber bullets on Sunday after their annual march was banned for the fifth consecutive year.
“It’s hard for us today, but can you even imagine what some of these people went through in the past? There’s no way to thank them,” said Josh Greenblatt, 25, an actor wearing red sunglasses, a white crop top, ripped jeans and gold-heeled boots at the New York event.Greenblatt said he found his outlandish outfit “empowering,” and he had plenty of competition from revelers stripping down to the barest of essentials and celebrating New York’s legalization of toplessness for women. One woman wore a skintight rainbow dress with a rainbow afro about 2 feet (60 cm) high. A shirtless man sporting rainbow-colored wings and high white platform shoes strutted up Broadway. Rainbow onesie leotards were popular, and there were plenty of colorful wigs, patent leather, fishnets and bright makeup.
The festivities were set to conclude on Sunday night with closing ceremonies at Times Square and a waterfront concert by Madonna.
The world’s marquee gay pride parade was preceded on Sunday by a protest march by thousands of anti-corporate dissidents who rejected a uniformed police presence and commercial sponsorship, while demanding LGBTQ equality.
The Queer Liberation March aimed to call attention to the killing of black trans women, protest U.S. detentions of migrant children and oppose actions by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to curtail the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other queer people.
In San Francisco, companies such as Alphabet Inc’s Google, Facebook Inc, T-Mobile and Netflix Inc lent the parade a corporate flavor. Dissidents opposing corporate sponsorship blocked an intersection of the parade route, shouting: “Stonewall was a riot.”
“The system of policing upholds white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, gender binaries and capitalist rule,” one San Francisco protester said over a megaphone.
Some during the events also paused to consider the state of LGBTQ rights under Trump, who has banned transgender people in the military, cut HIV/AIDS research and supported so-called religious freedom initiatives to curb LGBTQ protections.
The White House says Trump has long advocated LGBTQ equality and noted that he backed a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality.
“They could turn back gay marriage. Don’t ever fool yourself,” said Christopher Edward Andrew, 53. “Elections matter. Votes matter.” The U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in a landmark ruling in 2015.
In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, police raided New York’s Stonewall Inn, ostensibly to shut down a Mafia-owned establishment selling watered-down liquor without a license. But the raid followed a series of others at gay bars in the Greenwich Village neighborhood, and the patrons fought back, forcing police to barricade themselves inside.
That touched off several nights of riots and the birth of a movement.
New York was designated the site of World Pride this year, drawing an estimated 4 million people to the city, where straight allies joined LGBTQ people in defending civil rights.
Mary Glasspool, assistant bishop of the New York Diocese of the U.S. Episcopal Church, said all its churches in Manhattan opened their doors for visitors from across the world.
“We want to show them this is a safe space and God loves everyone,” Glasspool said. “Today, it is about love.”
Reporting by Maria Caspani and Matthew Lavietes; Additional reporting by Richard Leong and Dan Fastenberg in New York and Emmett Berg in San Francisco; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Peter Cooney