New York Gay Pride parade to honour Orlando victims

A vendor holds rainbow flags as he walks near Fifth Avenue before the New York City Pride Parade. (Mel Evans, AP)
A vendor holds rainbow flags as he walks near Fifth Avenue before the New York City Pride Parade. (Mel Evans, AP)

New York - New York kicked off on Sunday what organisers hope will be the city's largest ever Gay Pride march, honouring the 49 people killed in the Orlando nightclub massacre and celebrate tolerance.

Police lined the route down Fifth Avenue, which started in Midtown and culminates in Greenwich Village, home of the Stonewall Inn which President Barack Obama two days ago designated America's first LGBT national monument.

Hundreds of social, grassroots, employment and activist organisations are taking part, some for the first time, to pay tribute to the Orlando victims and showcase New York's long tradition of diversity.

"The parade represents who we are as a people," said 56-year-old retired teacher Pedro Lugo, wearing a striped rainbow shirt, draped in coloured necklaces and representing the American Cancer Society and Bronx Art Academy.

"Every parade has its own purpose but this year's purpose has been very profound, I would say, for not only New York City but all of the United States and I really believe the whole world," he told AFP.

"Tolerance is still a number one priority. We just have to accept each other for who we are. We're all important and we're all God's children."

A beacon of gay rights

The first marchers set off at noon (16:00 GMT) following a moment's silence, watched by spectators waving a sea of rainbow flags.

New York considers itself the beacon of gay rights around the world and Mayor Bill de Blasio urged Americans across the country to take part after the massacre on June 12 in Florida.

This year's march falls on the first anniversary of the US Supreme Court decision to legalise gay marriage across the country and organisers are hoping to draw a larger crowd than last year.

David, a 25-year-old restaurant manager from Tbilisi wearing Mickey Mouse shorts and standing at the start line, said he flew all the way just to attend Gay Pride and marry his Georgian husband.

Very happy event

He said Georgia was "very homophobic" in stark contrast to New York.

"You can live here and have a boyfriend, girlfriend and you can have your own way without any discrimination," he said. "To my country I want to say, 'love each other'."

Brittany Sheidy, 21, took the early morning bus from her home in Pennsylvania in a show of support for her gay friends.

"Even though what happened in Orlando we're got giving up. We're not going to lay down. We're just going to keep going no matter what," said the woman, who works with people of low IQ.

"This is a very happy event and I think that today we should not mourn the losses but we should celebrate the lives we were actually able to save."

Two days before the march, Obama designated the Stonewall Inn, a bar and its immediate vicinity the first LGBT national monument in the United States.

The inn is considered the birthplace of America's gay rights movement as the site of protests in 1969 following a police crackdown on laws banning the sale of alcohol to gays.

Among the groups taking part in Sunday's march was Gays Against Guns, a new organisation set up in New York to campaign for gun control legislation in the wake of the Orlando massacre.

Tim Murphy, a member of the organisation, said the LGBT community has a long history of activism for issues such as HIV and marriage equality.

"We want to bring some of that leverage and some of that pressure to bear on the pre-existing gun rights movement. Because it hits us very close to home this time," he told AFP on the eve of the parade.

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