D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and supporters participate in the annual Capital Pride Parade at Dupont Circle in Northwest on June 8 before festivities were brought to a halt with reports of gunfire that turned out to be a BB gun. (Brigette Squire/The Washington Informer)
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and supporters participate in the annual Capital Pride Parade at Dupont Circle in Northwest on June 8 before festivities were brought to a halt with reports of gunfire that turned out to be a BB gun. (Brigette Squire/The Washington Informer)

Like the legendary swallows of Capistrano, thousands of those from the LGBTQ community, as well as those who support their incessant demands for full equality in America, swarmed along the streets of the District on Saturday, June 8 for the 2019 Capital Pride Parade.

The annual march through Northwest from Dupont Circle to Logan Circle, once again attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators and participants, including DC Mayor Muriel Bowser who led the parade and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) who has marched every year since first being elected to Congress and has long been an ardent advocate for LGBTQ rights, introducing several forms of legislation aimed at securing rights and reducing discrimination.

“Each year, we march to celebrate our LGBTQ community here in the District, but also to signal that their fight for full equality is everyone’s fight,” Norton said.

But the festivities turned potentially deadly after rumors of someone with a gun and the sounds of outbursts similar to gunfire, caused temporary panic as parade celebrants scattered for their lives.

Officials quickly arrested but have since released the man whom witnesses alleged had a weapon (later determined by police to be a BB gun) but for safety purposes the parade would be canceled after only three-fourths of marchers had the opportunity to walk the route in celebration.

Commander Guillermo Rivera of the Metropolitan Police, in a subsequent report, said no evidence could be found to confirm that shots had been fired. However, several people had to be taken to hospitals suffering minor injuries with others treated at the scene of the melee.

The organization that planned the parade, Capital Pride Alliance, held a block party in lieu of the interrupted parade. A photographer on hand for The Washington Informer described what he witnessed, saying he’s concerned that America now faces a “new normal” as it relates to the potential of violence when crowds gather for celebratory events.

“It was chaotic for several minutes with people running aimlessly and knocking folks out of the way,” said Anthony Tilghman. “The whole crowd seemed to just move at one time. No one knew what was going on and many said they believed shots had been fired into the crowd.”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump, while issuing a brief tweet for the first time since taking office about Pride Month, which continues throughout June with a host of events in New York City, has been less than supportive of LGBTQ rights, including but not limited to his decision to disallow transgender Americans to serve in the military.

Remarks from the White House circulated after his tweet said, “My Administration has launched a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality and invites all nations to join us in this effort.”

However, his actions and initiatives, or lack thereof, continue to cause those within the LGBTQ community to doubt his commitment to securing equal rights for America’s gays, lesbians and transgender.

Washington Blade features editor Joey Diduglielo, 44, a resident in Northwest and longtime participant in DC Gay Pride events said with Trump in office, things have grown worse.

“We heard his proclamation of gay pride but it was just a hollow statement, Diduglielo said. “I’ve been coming to the parade for many years because it’s a day of fun and an opportunity for us to let our hair down and a chance to be as gay as we want.”

“But there’s no question that with Donald at the helm, we’ve seen a push toward more conservative policies. All I can say is come on – it’s 2019. Why are we still trying to secure full rights? It’s not that things are overt but this Administration and the climate it has created does cause me concern,” he added.

Baltimore native Nathaniel Wilson, 19, attended the parade for the first time and says while he loved the experience he still did not “feel the love.”

“I couldn’t get into the clubs because I’m not old enough but I wanted to celebrate being gay,” he said. “But there were very few Blacks on the floats and not many in the crowd. It felt like a white party and I just didn’t feel like I had been invited. I felt out of place and continue to feel the pressure to assimilate. On a daily basis, I often feel like I have a triple target on my back because I’m a Black gay man in America.”

Longtime DC resident and an outspoken African-American lesbian whose advocacy efforts have been well-documented, Sheila Alexander-Reid, describes pride as a “form of resistance and resilience.”

“Pride events started as an uprising, led by Black and Latina transwomen in response to police brutality, discrimination and homophobia which often resulted in violence,” she said. “While we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising this year, that was not the first. It is merely the most famous one. Fast forward 50 years and our Pride events have evolved into a celebration of living our lives openly and authentically without fear. These events remind us from whence we’ve come and how much we continuously struggled to get here.”

She also commented on how race tends to remain a dividing factor within the LGBTQ community.

“In 1991, DC’s Black Pride started as a way to rally the Black LGBTQ community to raise money for and awareness about the HIV/AIDS pandemic that was disproportionately impacting Black, gay men,” she said. “There was very little if any aid coming from government sources. Black Pride was born out of a community helping itself when no one else would. Since its start in 1991, over 300,000 members of the Black LGBTQ community from around the country have attended the annual celebration – one which celebrates our resilience to a toxic societal combination of racism and homophobia.”

As for Trump’s reversal of LGBTQ rights, she said the following.

“This government-sanctioned hate mongering is a wake-up call to anyone who thought the days of fighting for equality and equity were behind us,” she said. “I have been fighting for social justice and equity for over 25 years and haven’t been able to take my eyes off the prize yet . . . Attacks on immigrant rights, women’s rights, trans rights, LGBQ rights and reproductive justice are an attack on the freedom of every person in the U.S. We must lock arms and stand up to those who seek to intimidate or harm us.”

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