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social sciences

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Parades and Marches  
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Both parades and marches serve to render a community visible, but the purposes of the two kinds of events are different. Marches typically have the goal of effecting political or social change, whereas parades are celebratory. In practice, the distinction is not always so clear: some contingents in a parade may bear messages of political protest, and marches may have festive elements or be part of a larger program that includes concerts or picnics and similar events.

Pride parades have become significant events in most North American cities and in many European and Asian cities as well. Typically held in conjunction with other gay pride events, and often in June, pride parades offer opportunities for local glbtq communities to celebrate their diversity and to affirm their sense of unity.

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While most media attention is directed toward the mammoth celebrations in cities such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Toronto, pride parades or festivities are held throughout the world, often in relatively small towns, where celebrations may take the form of parties or picnics rather than parades. One estimate is that as many as 45,000,000 people world-wide participate in pride events each year, from Arcata, California to Zurich, Switzerland.

Sometimes the pride celebrations are purely celebratory, but most often they are also political, the occasion for lobbying for glbtq rights or protesting injustice. Frequently, politicians seize the opportunity of the pride events to express their support for the glbtq community by issuing proclamations or by participating in parades and other activities.

Marches on Washington

Marches and demonstrations on behalf of various causes were fairly common in the 1960s and 1970s, as people took to the streets to show support for the civil rights of African Americans or to protest the war in Vietnam. One of the first demonstrations for the cause of gay and lesbian rights was a " march" on July 4, 1965. About fifty people from the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis picketed the White House in Washington, D. C., to protest discriminatory employment practices by the federal government.

Subsequently, after the growth of the modern gay and lesbian rights movement in the 1970s, several large marches on Washington have taken place. On October 14, 1979, the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights drew more than 100,000 people to mark the tenth anniversary of the Stonewall riots, to protest Anita Bryant's anti-gay crusade, and to decry the lenient jail sentence given to Dan White for the assassination of openly gay San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk.

Over 500,000 people came to the capital on October 11, 1987 to rally for lesbian and gay rights. Marchers protested the 1986 Supreme Court decision in Bowers v. Hardwick upholding laws. They also criticized the federal government for its dismal lack of action in the fight against AIDS. In conjunction with the march, the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed for the first time.

Organizers estimated that nearly 1,000,000 people turned out for the third march on Washington on April 25, 1993. The response to AIDS remained an issue. Participants also protested the ban on gays in the military and laws that failed to protect the civil rights of glbtq people, among other causes.

Over three hundred events were held on the weekend of the march, including a candlelight vigil at the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum, a march at Arlington National Cemetery in honor of gay, lesbian, and bisexual veterans, a mass wedding demonstration to promote the rights of same-sex couples, a "dyke march," and various social events.

The year 2000 saw the Millennium March. Hundreds of thousands thronged to the capital calling for an end to hate crimes, support for the rights of gay and lesbian couples and parents, and passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

The diverse crowd of marchers included veterans and veterinarians, drag queens and drum corps, gay parents with their children, and gay children with their parents.

Among the prominent figures who spoke in front of the Capitol were Senator Paul Wellstone, Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Jerry Nadler, Executive Director Elizabeth Birch of the Human Rights Campaign, tennis great Martina Navratilova, former baseball player Billy Bean, singer Melissa Etheridge, and actress Ellen DeGeneres.

The parents of Matthew Shepard, the victim of a murder, were joined by relatives of James Byrd, Jr., the African-American victim of a racially motivated murder, in calling for an end to all hate crimes.

New York's Gay Pride Marches

The march that is generally considered the first pride event took place in New York City on June 28, 1970. Thousands of participants from a score of organizations marched from Greenwich Village to Central Park to commemorate the first anniversary of Stonewall. The protesters, some of whom had traveled from other states to participate in the march, raised many serious issues, including laws that prohibited consensual homosexual acts or permitted discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment and housing.

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The 2004 Vancouver Dyke March photographed
by author and photographer Jane Eaton Hamilton.

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