The first Pride parade I ever attended was held in Columbus, Ohio. I was a college student sticking a tentative toe out of the proverbial closet 2 hours from my hometown—and about a decade after I first suspected I was queer. In the years following that first joyous outing, I haven’t always felt pride as I continue to sift through the murky mix of gender identity and sexual orientation year round. Growing up in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, I had far fewer examples of how to be—or not to be—queer than the kids of today and tomorrow. My first Pride experience overwhelmed my senses, but I felt at home among the colorful chaos. I had found my people, and they were fabulous.
I was living in New York City when the 2015 Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges made marriage a real possibility for me, and a friend and I followed the rainbow-colored masses to the Stonewall Inn. We waited in a long line for Big Gay Ice Cream and gathered for an impromptu celebration on the street where, 46 years earlier, a raid had started a riot that amplified a growing movement. The post-Stonewall protest marches of the early ‘70s may have lost a bit of their bite when they evolved into modern-day parades and drag brunches, but the corporate takeover isn’t total. Today, hand-painted banners advocating for queer liberation line up behind professionally-decorated floats handing out branded swag. It’s up for debate if we call that progress.
The Stonewall Inn is the birthplace of the LGBTQ rights movement
While I think that complaints about Pride celebrations losing touch with their scrappy beginnings for corporate cashouts are totally valid, I am still new enough to the self-acceptance club that I recognize their enduring power. Everyone should have an opportunity to find their people. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite part: The spectators are just as joyous as the parade participants, and every dog I pass is better dressed than the last. Revelers are clad in technicolor feathers, black leather, and too many rainbow hightops to count, proving that with enough glitter and guts, every body is a Pride body.
My last pre-pandemic Pride took place in New York; in 2019, the city marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots with a month of events and celebrations known as WorldPride NYC. The parade itself, attended by an estimated 4 million people, was so long it didn’t wrap up until well past midnight. I marched with my girlfriend’s flag football team, and we were one of the last groups to walk through the confetti-strewn streets. We weren’t doing anything more remarkable than being ourselves—and the crowds lining the sidewalks and pressing against bike barricades had thinned considerably. But the stragglers cheered loudly.
A cross-country road trip honoring LGBTQ+ Pride
In June 2021, a trans teen in my neighborhood spearheaded his own scrappy march through the streets of Capitol Hill, ending at the Supreme Court. Dozens of kids and adults chalked rainbow streaks in their hair, sported sleeves of temporary rainbow tattoos, and carried cardboard signs of acceptance and defiance. After 2 years of canceled or virtual events due to COVID-19, Capital Pride was back in full-force this year in downtown Washington, D.C., in mid-June. According to the Capital Pride Alliance’s website, the parade’s “modified route honors our history and acknowledges the evolution of the LGBTQ+ neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., while respecting the origins and importance of taking to the streets in our fight for equality.”
Here are a few of my favorite moments from Capital Pride Parade, which began at T and 14th streets NW, and ended just past Dupont Circle.
A vendor sells Pride merchandise, including rainbow flags, beads, boas, and bucket hats.
After a recent onslaught of anti-LGBTQ legislation, the mood this year was cautiously celebratory, with revelers recognizing both the gains and gaps in the ongoing movement for equal rights.
Participants and spectators draped themselves in attire representing the large swath of gender identities and sexual orientations under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. The pansexuality flag features three stripes rendered in blue, yellow, and pink.
Modern-day Pride parades comprise a mix of corporate participants and creative individuals; the expressions of queerness are just as varied as the attendees themselves.
From elaborate headdresses and multi-color balloon displays to fancy footwear, Pride celebrations are a feast for the senses.
Nicky Sundt gives out hugs and high fives to the crowd while balancing a face mask topped with an impressive array of rainbow-colored peacock feathers.
Spectators line the parade route, which was chosen this year for its significance in local D.C. LGBTQ history.
While not perfect, Pride celebrations strive for inclusivity, including participants from local firehouses, construction companies, and other businesses and grassroots groups.
As acceptance grows, so does the merchandise; this year’s Capital Pride included dozens of dogs dripping in rainbow attire—from tutus and dresses to bandanas and beads.
It’s hard not to smile at a Pride parade.
After the pandemic paused Pride for 2 years, the 2022 Capital Pride benefitted from unseasonably-cool weather on a sunny Saturday in mid-June.