June 13, 2011 at 3:41 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Thousands brave heat for pride parade, festival

With the U.S. Capitol as a dramatic backdrop, tens of thousands of LGBT people and their friends and families jammed Pennsylvania Avenue on Sunday for the District of Columbia’s 36th annual Capital Pride festival.

One day earlier, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and ten members of the 13-member D.C. City Council joined dozens of LGBT groups, colorful floats, marching bands, and thousands of individual marchers in the annual Capital Pride Parade, which snaked its way along city streets lined with thousands of spectators.

Gray also spoke at Sunday’s festival before introducing the day’s lead entertainer, Broadway actress and singer Jennifer Holliday, who debuted her new single “Magic,” marking the song’s word premiere.

Although city officials and police no longer provide official crowd estimates for large-scale events, Capital Pride organizers said they believe between 200,000 and 250,000 people turned out for the parade and festival.

“Everything was absolutely fantastic,” said Capital Pride spokesperson Scott Lusk. “All of our community partners and volunteers and attendees showed up in great numbers and with great enthusiasm. It was an absolute fantastic weekend.”

Eighteen-year-old Tiffany Johnson from Southeast D.C., who stood with a group of friends near the festival’s main stage just before Holliday began her performance, said this year’s festival represented the first time she had ever attended Capital Pride.

“It’s just awesome,” she said. “It’s just so great to be able to come out to something like this.”

Angelo Jimenez, 54, a resident of Richmond, Va., said this year’s festival marked the 31st consecutive year he has traveled to D.C. to attend the city’s Pride festival.

“I came for the first time in 1980 and haven’t missed a single year,” he said. “That tells you how much this means to me.”

Other festival attendees who approached the Blade’s booth identified themselves as residents of states up and down the mid Atlantic region as well as from the D.C. metropolitan area.

Gray and a contingent of city officials, including gay activist Jeffrey Richardson, director of the city’s Office of GLBT Affairs, walked along Saturday the entire parade route, which began at 22nd and P Streets, N.W., near Dupont Circle, and ended nearly two miles later at 14th and N Streets, N.W., near Thomas Circle.

Most of the Council members, including gay Council members David Catania (I-At-Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), also walked or rode in cars along the full parade route.

The other Council members participating in the parade included Council Chair Kwame Brown (D-At-Large) and Council members Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), Michael Brown (I-At-Large), Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).

Gray had invited the Council members to join his contingent, which he named the “D.C. 41,” in recognition of the 41 city officials and activists, including Gray and six Council members, who were arrested in April outside a Senate office building near the Capitol in a protest against congressional intrusion in D.C. affairs.

But most of the Council members chose to march or ride in their own contingents just behind the mayor’s contingent.

Following closely behind the D.C. elected officials’ contingents was Adam Ebbin, the openly gay member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Alexandria, who is running for a seat in the Virginia Senate.

The parade was led by an escort of D.C. police cars staffed by members of the department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.

Following closely behind the police escort was a contingent of leaders and supporters of the Trevor Project, a nationally recognized organization that works to prevent LGBT teen suicide. Capital Pride selected the Trevor Project contingent as the parade’s grand marshal.

A D.C. Public Schools contingent was among the parade contingents that attracted considerable attention and drew loud applause throughout the parade route. It included teachers, parents, and elementary school kids, with some waving rainbow flags.

Similar to past years, D.C.’s Different Drummers, the city’s LGBT marching band, and the Lesbian and Gay Big Apple Corps Marching Band of New York City marched and performed in the parade.

Capital Pride organizers said they were especially pleased with the wide diversity of groups and vendors that participated in both the parade in festival. In addition to a large number of national and local LGBT organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, and the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance, LGBT oriented religious, sports, and social groups participated in both event, organizers said.

A number of the city’s gay bars and nightclubs also had colorful floats in the parade. Bathing suit clad men danced to music blaring from a float from Nellie’s Sport Bar. Drag performers and male go-go dancers in bathing suites also danced to music broadcast from loud speakers atop two large flatbed trucks that made up the float for Ziegfeld’s-Secrets, the gay club in Southwest D.C. that features drag shows and male strippers.

A number of new commercial and corporate venders participated in this year at the festival, according to Capital Pride officials. Among them were the Saab automobile company and Macy’s department stores. Both were among this year’s Capital Pride corporate sponsors.

Among some of the others displaying their information at festival booths were the Goddard Space Flight Center Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Advisory Committee; the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art; the Gay-Straight Alliance of Montgomery Blair High School in Montgomery County, Md.; the Embassy of Sweden; Amtrak; the Capital Cat Clinic; the D.C. Office of Human Rights and D.C. Child and Family Services Agency.

Capital Pride board president Michael Lutz said this year’s festival included expanded family related activities, with a special family section that provided children’s games and children’s entertainment.

The Washington Nationals Baseball Team also had a presence at the festival, with at least one of its “racing presidents,” actors dressed as past U.S. president with oversized puppet-like heads, walking through the festival grounds.

The Nationals are hosting the annual LGBT “Night Out at the Nationals” game on June 21, which is sponsored by the local LGBT sports group Team D.C.

Capital Pride officials have said it costs about $500,000 to put on the annual D.C. pride events, including the parade and festival. Lutz said contributions from corporate sponsors, at least 25 local and national LGBT and LGBT-supportive organizations who sign on as Pride Community Partners, and fundraising events generate the funds needed to pay for Capital Pride.

“We’re in great shape financially,” said Lutz, who noted that a full accounting of the group’s finances is released each year after an independent accountant completes the bookkeeping process.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Was this gay pride? I thought it was obesity pride. You all need to quit drinking and do some kind of exercise.

  • I was htere, as I almost always am, supporting my gay friends and neighbors. I did notice the many more commercial business floats etc.

    And also the many many churches who now support treating gays as equals.

    I’m told the United Methodists in the baltimore washington area actually voted to change their book of discipline (their rules book) to allow gay marriage.

    And another person said that he was surprised at how many more str8 couples were there also.

    I think we have reached the tipping point, where much of America is going to treat our gay citizens as equals.
    the shame of it is that just like ending slavery, our accpetance of gays now makes uss one of the last of the westernized nations to do so.

    Makes it real hard to be proud of our country., but we are finally making progress

  • I was unimpressed with this year’s poorly organized parade. It was pointless and boring. The gaps in time between the “contingents” of vegans, churches, politicians and business groups added to the tedium of what was essentially a ruined day. i felt no pride in this presentation, nor did I feel as if we presented ourselves is a positive light.

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