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. She was accompanied by a friend who goes by the name of Anastasia Belladonna and who was dressed in drag while entertaining a crowd outside the Grand Central club on North Charles Street.
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 LBGT community dared march in support of them, he said.
"Now we're just another color of the world," Myers said. "It's changed into a fun party, from something where you were afraid to show yourself in light. And it needs to stay that way."
Myers and his friends had parked themselves at City Cafe since the early afternoon, watching passersby who spilled past a wooden boundary stationed on the next block. The group reflected on the politics of LGBT issues, and how far they've come.
"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.
"I think it's gone downhill," said W. Clay Ellis, 38, of Baltimore. "There's a difference between trash and class. You can be prideful without being destructive."
"Part of progress is conflict," said Andy Newport, 36, of Baltimore. "Without conflict, there would be no growth."
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