NEW YORK (AP) — Gay pride parades held around the nation Sunday drew huge crowds of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their supporters who celebrated after a year of numerous same-sex marriage victories.
As many as 1 million people packed the streets of the Chicago’s North Side for the first gay pride parade since Illinois legalized gay marriage last month.
“I think there is definitely like an even more sense of pride now knowing that in Illinois you can legally get married now,” said Charlie Gurion, who with David Wilk in February became the first couple in Cook County to get a same-sex marriage license. “I think it is a huge thing, and everybody’s over the moon that they can do it now.”
New York’s Fifth Avenue became one giant rainbow as thousands of participants waved multicolored flags while making their way down the street. Politicians including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo were among those walking along a lavender line painted on the avenue from midtown Manhattan to the West Village.
The parade marked the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the 1969 uprising against police raids that were a catalyst for the gay rights movement. The parade route passes The Stonewall Inn, the site of the riots.
In San Francisco, hundreds of motorcyclists of the lesbian group Dykes on Bikes took their traditional spot at the head of the 44th annual parade and loudly kicked off the festivities with a combined roar. Apple Inc. had one of the largest corporate presences, and chief executive Tim Cook greeted the estimated 4,000 employees and family members who participated. The parade drew more than 100,000 spectators and participants.
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and assorted state and local politicians rolled along Market Street along with gay city police officers holding hands with their significant others as their children skipped ahead.
For some veterans of the San Francisco parade, the event has lost some its edge as it gains mainstream acceptance.
“There’s less partying,” said Larry Pettit, who said he attended the first parade more than four decades ago. “There’s less sex. Everyone’s interested in politics and no one is having sex.”
In Seattle, thousands of people attended the city’s 40th annual Pride Parade downtown. This year’s theme — “Generations of Pride,” honors civil rights battles in the city that elected its first openly gay mayor last November.
Actor George Takei, who played in the “Star Trek” TV show and movies and is now an activist for gay and civil rights, was celebrity grand marshal of the Seattle parade.
A year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a pair of landmark rulings, one striking down the statute that denied federal recognition to same-sex marriages and the other clearing the way for gay couples to wed legally in California.
In the 12 months since then, the ripple effects of those rulings has transformed the national debate over same-sex marriage, convincing many people on both sides of the contentious issue that its spread nationwide is inevitable.
From the East Coast to the Midwest and the Pacific, seven more states legalized same-sex marriage, boosting the total to 19, plus Washington, D.C. The Obama administration moved vigorously to extend federal benefits to married gay couples. And in 17 consecutive court decisions, federal and state judges have upheld the right of gays to marry. Not a single ruling has gone the other way.
Other parades were held Sunday across the U.S., including in Minneapolis and Houston. On Saturday, festivals were in held France, Spain, Mexico and Peru.
About 10,000 people attended a festival Saturday in Augusta, Georgia, the fifth year it has been held here. Activities included an outdoor dance party and musical performances, according to The Augusta Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1qpn4qZ).
“My hometown wasn’t very open. So when I moved to Augusta last year, I made a promise to be more open and to be more accepting of myself,” said Matt Rivera, a college student who came out in December. “Coming to the festival is a special way to keep that promise.”
Among the marchers Sunday in New York were cousins Yaseena Oatis, 20, and Shayna Melendez, 22, from Plainfield, New Jersey.
“We’re walking to celebrate, to be embraced being who we are around people who are like us, free to express ourselves,” Oatis said. “Everybody has a different story about how they came out as gay, but we’re all here.”
Associated Press writers Don Babwin in Chicago, Paul Elias in San Francisco, and Donna Blankinship in Seattle contributed to this report.
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