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Washington Blade: LGBTQ News, Politics, LGBTQ Rights, Gay News: Hundreds of thousands turn out for D.C. Pride parade and festival

As many as 600,000 or more people turned out for D.C.’s Capital Pride parade and festival along with dozens of other Pride related events over the weekend of June 10-11, according to officials with the Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organized the parade, festival, and many of the other events.

“We are about to celebrate Capital Pride 2023, with one of the largest Pride parades in Washington, D.C.’s history,” said Capital Pride Alliance Executive Director Ryan Bos at a news media briefing on June 10, minutes before the parade began at its starting point at 14th and T Streets, N.W.

Also drawing a large crowd was the fourth annual Pride on the Pier event that took place on June 10 at the city’s Southwest waterfront Wharf, and which was sponsored by the Washington Blade, the local event organizing company LURe, and the Wharf. The event included a drag show, dance party, and the annual Pride fireworks display.

The prediction by weather forecasters of a possible harmful air quality index due to the Canadian wildfire smoke that had engulfed the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. several days earlier did not appear to deter the huge turnout at the Capital Pride events over the weekend. By Saturday and Sunday, weather officials said the air quality index dropped to the far less harmful Code Yellow status.

Among those who spoke at the Capital Pride media briefing was Dr. Rachel Levine, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health and admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, who became the first openly transgender person to be appointed to both positions. Levine was among several prominent LGBTQ people selected by the Capital Pride Alliance to be grand marshals for the Pride parade.

“Pride is a time of hope and change and love and joy,” she told the gathering at the start of the parade. “But it needs to catalyze us to go forth across the country to catalyze more change and to fight against these regressive laws that are being passed, which damage and attack our vulnerable community – attack vulnerable trans youth and their families and attack our LGBTQI+ families,” Levine said. 

She was referring to the more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced, with many of them passed, in state legislatures across the country over the past year. 

Also speaking at the media briefing was Dame Karen Pierce, the British Ambassador to the U.S., who led a British Embassy contingent in the parade.

“Thank you to Washington Pride,” she told the gathering. “We have the honor to have been with the Washington Pride for over 11 years as the first embassy to take part, and we’re delighted to see how much it’s grown.”

Levine joined Bos and other Capital Pride Alliance officials as well as Ambassador Pierce who said this year’s Pride events would serve as both a celebration and an act of defiance against the anti-LGBTQ sentiment rising dramatically across the country.

Activists who have observed D.C.’s Pride parade over the years have said this year’s parade appeared to have attracted more spectators watching the parade along the streets compared to recent past D.C. Pride parades, with crowds five to 10 people deep lining the sidewalks and cheering as parade contingents, including marching bands, passed by.

The parade followed a route from 14th and T Streets, N.W., where it traveled south to Rhode Island Avenue, turned onto Massachusetts Avenue, and turned onto 17th Street, where it reached the Capital Pride block party located on 17th Street between P and Q Streets.

From 17th Street, the parade turned onto P Street and traveled to Dupont Circle, with its contingents traveling halfway around the circle and back onto P Street, where it ended at 21st and P.

Among the parade contingents that drew cheers and excitement from the crowds on the sidelines were floats for D.C.’s professional sports teams including the Washington Nationals baseball team, the D.C. United hockey team, the Washington Commanders football team, the Washington Wizards men’s basketball team, and Washington Mystics women’s basketball team.

Also marching in the parade were D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who led the parade with a contingent of more than 100 LGBTQ community supporters, and 11 members of the 13-member D.C. Council.

The Council members marching in the parade with their own LGBTQ supporters included D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), Kenyan McDuffie (I-At Large), Robert White (D-At Large), Christina Henderson (I-At Large), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), Matthew Frumin (D-Ward 3), Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5), who is the Council’s only openly gay member, and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6).

Among the marching bands in the parade that drew cheers from the crowds was D.C.’s Eastern High School Marching Band.

Similar to past years, contingents in this year’s parade as well as in the June 11 festival, which took place on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., between 3rd and 7th Streets, included many prominent local and national LGBTQ advocacy organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign and the National LGBTQ Task Force.

Also, like past years, many U.S. government and local D.C. government agencies set up booths at the Pride festival. Among them were the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the CIA, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The booths set up by those and other government agencies were staffed by LGBTQ employees of the agencies, including the CIA. 

Like past years, the festival this year included the annual Pride concert and entertainment performances, including drag performances. Among the drag performers was acclaimed D.C. drag performer Donnell Robinson aka Ella Fitzgerald.

The concert included many prominent performers, including Broadway actress Idina Menzel and ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ winner Monet X Change.

In addition to the official events organized by Capital Pride Alliance, including the parade and festival, a dozen or more Pride related parties took place over the weekend at local LGBTQ bars and nightclubs. Most of D.C.’s gay bars had long lines of people waiting to get in on Saturday night after the parade, as the packed bars hosted various Pride related events.

Longtime D.C. transgender activist Earline Budd, who was among the Capital Pride honorees and parade grand marshals who spoke at the Saturday media briefing along with Rachel Levine, appeared to capture the spirit of celebration reflected in this year’s D.C. Pride events.

“I am so honored to be here today,” Budd said. “This is a historical point in our history. We must stand up. We must fight. We must never give up,” she said. “Peace, Love Revolution. Remember that. Peace, Love, Revolution.”

Budd was referring to the official theme of this year’s Capital Pride events chosen by the Capital Pride Alliance board – Peace, Love, Revolution.

Capital Pride officials prior to the start of the weekend Pride events said the festival was expected to include more than 300 booths with local vendors, businesses, and organizations.   

Capital Pride officials didn’t immediately respond to a request by the Washington Blade for the official list of the Pride parade contingents and a list of the festival booths set up by vendors, LGBTQ supportive companies, and organizations.

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