Image: Parade in S.F.
Justin Sullivan  /  Getty Images
Members of the motorcycle group "Dykes on Bikes" ride during the 36th annual LGBT Pride Parade on Sunday in San Francisco.
updated 6/25/2006 8:01:12 PM ET 2006-06-26T00:01:12

Tens of thousands of raucous parade-goers braved a steady downpour and lined Fifth Avenue on Sunday for the annual gay pride parade, an event that comes just weeks after an attack on a popular gay singer and the 25th anniversary of the start of the AIDS epidemic.

Outrageous costumes were abundant all along the parade route, including men in short skirts and tiaras and long-legged drag queens in knee-high boots. The floats and marchers also turned Fifth Avenue into a sea of rainbows.

“Everyone else has a chance to express their affection freely, and for one day in New York, you can be free and not feel ashamed or embarrassed,” said Roberto Hermosilla of Miami, who was attending his ninth parade.

It was one of several gay pride parades around the country this weekend, including a similar-size one in San Francisco.

The theme of New York’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride March was “The Fight for Love and Life,” but there was plenty of talk about hate following the suspected gay-bashing attack of singer Kevin Aviance last month in Manhattan. Aviance has recovered and was expected to take part in the parade.

“A few hateful homophobes will not set us back,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is openly gay and marched in the parade.

Greater focus on HIV and AIDS
The parade also took place just weeks after the 25th anniversary of the start of the AIDS epidemic, and city leaders used the event to call for a greater focus on combating HIV and AIDS.

On Saturday, thousands gathered for the 25th Stonewall Columbus parade in Ohio. Michael Eblin, marching in his first parade, followed a black Hummer pulling a float of men. A cross-dresser in a beaded white gown perched atop the vehicle, holding a sign reading “The Closet.”

“For the first time, I’m going to be part of a majority,” the 18-year-old Eblin said just before the parade began.

A boy along the route wearing blue tie-dye held up a sign: “2 Moms. 2 Dads. Too Cool.”

The New York parade attracted diverse segments of the gay community. One contingent was a group of former and current yeshiva students who held up signs saying, “Jewish? Orthodox? Gay? You are not alone.”

The parades commemorate the Stonewall uprising of 1969, when patrons of a New York gay bar resisted a police raid.

‘Apex of gay visibility’
The New York Police Department said reports of anti-gay bias crimes totaled 25 through mid-June — compared with 19 over the same period in 2005.

But Clarence Patton, executive director of the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, said anti-gay and transgender incidents tend to spike in June because of the high-profile events that are held such as the parade.

“It’s like the apex of gay visibility,” he said.

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