Thousands of people celebrated the first in-person Capital Pride parade in the District since 2019 on June 11 with dancing and prancing in costumes and other colorful attired while admiring scores of colorful floats.
But despite the revelry, LGBTQ activists expressed determination that their hard-fought gains secured over the past few decades will not be eliminated.
“We won’t go back,” said Daniella Bailey, a Floridian who attended the parade with her brother who identified himself as gay. “I am all about love, love, love. I am very proud of my brother and I want him to live in a city and a country that loves him and cherishes him for who is he. People should come together and not be deterred by those who would pull us apart.”
The District’s Capital Pride parade has been recognized as one of the largest in the country celebrating LGBTQ culture. Pride events have taken place in the District since May 1972.
The celebration has grown as has the city’s LGBTQ population, which hovers around 8.6% according to census data in 2016, the largest percentage of any state-level jurisdiction.
In 2017, a survey revealed 2.9% of all households in the District consisted of same-sex couples with 77.4% of these homes made up of male couples. The District’s LGBTQ community has scored some political success with its election of David Catania, a Republican, winning a seat on the D.C. Council in 1997 as one of the few openly-gay elected officials in the country.
One year later, Jim Graham, the openly-gay executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, defeated incumbent Frank Smith to win the Ward 1 council seat. In 2014, Catania became the first openly gay person to seriously wage a contest for District mayor in the November general election, losing to Democrat Muriel Bowser.
This year, openly-gay candidates for the council include Zachary Parker in Ward 5 and Salah Czapary in Ward 1, both of whom count as serious contenders in their respective primary races.
While the LGBTQ community in the District has had political success, its members and allies say much work still needs to be done on the local and national level. Eric Rogers, a Ward 7 resident who ran for the at-large seat on the council in 2020, participated in the parade with D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson’s re-election campaign caravan.
“The pride parade is a must in D.C. politics,” Rogers said. “You have all of these people who are here and they are ready to be engaged. D.C.’s gay community is active and organized politically and any politician that doesn’t recognize that is missing a great opportunity.”
Hannah Pugh, a resident of Philadelphia, came to the District’s parade because she heard about it on social media and while talking with her friends. She said Philadelphia has Pride events but not on the scale of the District.
“I am bisexual,” she said. “This has got to be the best Pride parade in the country.”
However, the signs indicating support for LGBTQ causes didn’t escape the attention of Pugh.
“We have to be vigilant about keeping gay marriage legal in this country,” she said. “If the Supreme Court strikes down abortion on the federal level and leaves it to the states, that could affect gay marriage. There are some who don’t want same-sex marriages to exist. We have to fight to keep same-sex marriages legal.”
Pugh also has problems with religious leaders who claim to love God but hate people like her because of their sexuality.
“I am queer and a Christian,” she said. “There is no contradiction. You can be both. We are human. We aren’t hurting anyone.”
Like Pugh, Gabre Wills attended the parade for the first time. Wills said the energy and vibe of the parade and its floats stimulated her.
“I wanted to come to this,” she said. “I have never seen this before. This is celebrating the LGBTQ community and it is beautiful.”
Wills said the District treats its LGBTQ residents well but has problems when it comes to trans women. She said the city must do better to treat transgender women as individuals who have rights and have the right to live happily.
Northwest Washington resident Jonathan Willkos watched the parade with two of his friends. He liked the floats with elaborate decorations and the different outfits worn by parade participants. Willkos agreed with Wills that the city treats its LGBTQ population with respect but expressed concern about the number of pre-teen and teenagers who have “come out of the closet.”
“We need to keep an eye on our young people,” he said. “I know kids who are 5- and 12-years-old who are out there. It is outrageous.”
Ward 8 civic and political leader Philip Pannell rode on top of a float that his organization, the Anacostia Coordinating Council, sponsored. The District’s ongoing efforts to become the 51st state in the Union served as the central theme of his float.
He expressed his sentiments about the return of the Pride parade.
“It’s so good to see people out and dancing and having a good time,” he said. “This event is for everyone, gay or straight. I think it is the closest thing D.C. has to Mardi Gras.”