At the height of the Baltimore Pride event Saturday, the song "We Are Family" played over the parade's speakers. Spectators lining North Charles Street called the song a fitting anthem, despite a recent dispute among community leaders about the spirit of the event.
"This is the annual family reunion," said Erika Marie, 26, of Harford County, who attended in support of a friend.
Days before the event, local business owners and other community leaders argued over whether the event — which has drawn thousands to celebrate the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community since 1977 — has become sullied by problems such as underage drinking and public urination in Mount Vernon. The area has hosted the open-air party for more than a decade.
At City Cafe on Cathedral Street, other participants said they were glad to see efforts to tone down the event this year. Changes included limiting the block party's boundaries, and shutting it down an hour earlier than in prior years.
David Myers, 50, a Baltimore native who now lives in New Jersey, said he remembers a time when Pride festivals were more of a protest than a celebration — where participating could get you screamed at, pelted with food and hard objects, and might cost participants their jobs and houses.
It was a time when no one who wasn't part of the LGBT community dared march in support of them, he said. Now, everyone from heterosexual friends and family, community members, and even city and state leaders participate in support of the community.
Both Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Attorney General Douglas Gansler participated in the parade.
Jana Jones, 31, of Baltimore, sat on a porch waving a rainbow flag as she watched the parade. She said she wanted to attend as a city resident, and as an "ally" of gay relatives.
"I've always wanted to come because I knew there was a sense of freedom that comes with the event," Jones said. "It's really a community event. The fact that the mayor was here shows that Baltimore is really inclusive of everyone."
Myers said such sentiments show that, "we're just another color of the world."
"It's changed into a fun party, from something where you were afraid to show yourself in light," he said.
"And it needs to stay that way."
Myers and his friends had parked themselves at City Cafe since the early afternoon, watching passers by who spilled past a wooden boundary stationed on the next block. Part of the agreement this year was to scale back the block party boundaries from Cathedral Street, where the restaurant is located.
"I think there needs to be some boundaries," said Stephen King, 43, of Mount Vernon. "But it's not taking away from the feeling of community."
The group chose City Cafe because they believed in owner Gino Cardinale's message that an event celebrating that journey should be one the community could be proud of.
In the hour before the event was to wind down at 9 p.m., people continued to swell the streets of the block party — creating a more colorful and provocative scene since the afternoon, when families and their children perused the festivities.
Many said they hoped that Baltimore wouldn't place limits on its liberal environment.
"It's a very comfortable feeling in Baltimore," said Marty Hyson, 50, of Anne Arundel County, who has annually attended the event. "It's so different from [Washington] D.C. There's more realism."
Scott Smith, 48, of Gaithersburg said Baltimore's event is less "uptight" than D.C's.
"It's just so much more fun, and people can be themselves," said Smith, who is a longtime bartender in D.C., and said several of his customers began coming to Baltimore's event. "D.C. is so political, and so much more conservative. Back in the day, D.C.'s used to be a lot like this."
"It's a lot more relaxing and intimate," echoed Bobby Higdon, 25, of Baltimore. "I think that's why people continue to come."
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