New York Times
June 26, 2000

Hot Pants, Platform Shoes, the First Lady and the Mayor


With pulsating music, the gyrations of scantily clad dancers and the echoing thunder of cheering spectators, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers gathered yesterday to celebrate a year of concrete progress in the gay rights movement.

The annual Gay and Lesbian Pride March is by tradition a rowdy event, sort of half Mardi Gras, half political rally by one of New York City's most vocal interest groups. But with the State Legislature's passage last week of a bill toughening penalties for hate crimes, including those against gays, and Vermont's recent passage of a law recognizing same-sex unions, marchers said there was an even greater incentive to celebrate.

"It's a tremendously significant year," said Virginia M. Apuzzo, a lesbian activist, former White House adviser and one of the grand marshals for the 31st annual parade. "The changes have been dazzling."

Yesterday's parade illustrated the extraordinary diversity in the movement, with marchers representing Polish and Brazilian cultural groups, high school students and the elderly, teachers and firefighters, Republicans and Socialists, Jews and Buddhists.

There were, of course, the typical entourages of politicians, including Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi, Speaker Peter F. Vallone of the City Council and C. Virginia Fields, the Manhattan borough president. But none of politicians or nearly 300 other groups participating in the parade garnered anywhere near as much attention as Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic candidate for the Senate.

Mrs. Clinton, who happened to be behind a group called the Radical Faeries, which featured a man on skates who wore nothing but a silver cape, a tiara and a jockstrap, was so popular the police had difficulty controlling the crowd.

Some spectators pressed against barriers to try to get close to her, others threw confetti from fire escapes and windows. Together, thousands applauded and at times even chanted her name as she passed, smiling and waving.

"That is the warmest, most extraordinary parade welcome I have ever seen," said Representative Barney Frank, a gay Democrat from Massachusetts, who said he had been marching in parades for 30 years.

Mrs. Clinton's opponent, Rick A. Lazio, a Republican congressman from Long Island, was campaigning upstate. It was an absence that Mrs. Clinton said would be noticed.

"It is just a shame he is not here," Mrs. Clinton said. "I think that anyone who would run to represent the state of New York should run to represent all New Yorkers."

Mr. Giuliani came to the defense of Mr. Lazio, who replaced him in the Senate race last month after the mayor, citing his prostate cancer, dropped out.

"Schedules are very, very difficult when you run for office," the mayor said.

The mayor himself received an unusually warm welcome. There was some occasional booing, but the marchers in the group the mayor joined -- the Log Cabin Republicans --quickly blew whistles to mask the heckling. The mayor received a fair share of cheers as well.

"The fact that I am a Republican but still a very strong supporter of gay rights is actually in some ways more difficult than being a Democrat and a strong supporter of gay rights, and I think that people appreciate that," Mr. Giuliani said.

Yesterday's parade started just above St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, went down Fifth Avenue to Greenwich Village and then past Sheridan Square, the site of the Stonewall Inn, where a clash with the police in 1969 helped begin the modern gay rights movement. The march was led by a Cadillac convertible filled with veterans of the Stonewall uprising, dressed in drag.

As in past years, there were topless women and nearly naked men, some on motorcycles. And there was float after float of dancers -- men and women -- in hot pants and platform shoes. But it was clear that the celebration was more than a public display of sexual freedom and orientation. The politicians, gay rights activists and several spectators each spoke of a gradual transformation of the movement's goals as gays and lesbians increasingly struggle for acceptance, instead of just tolerance, in society.

"Every single day, people are recognizing that there are gay, lesbian and transgender members in their communities," said James Dale, 29, of Brooklyn, whose expulsion from a New Jersey Boy Scout troop 10 years ago resulted in a civil rights case that is now before the United States Supreme Court. "When they see that they realize we are all part of the same community. It is not us versus them, it is just one community."

Yet at the same time, there was a recognition that the push for rights is far from complete.

"Any civil rights movement is a marathon, not a sprint," said Ms. Apuzzo. "In this year's piece of that marathon, we have done phenomenally well."

Copyright New York Times Company. All rights reserved.