Celebration and reflection at Baltimore's 40th Gay Pride celebration

Harley-Davidsons idled throatily and men in small swimsuits danced enthusiastically in the moments before Baltimore's 40th anniversary Gay Pride parade began, the start of 15 hours of scheduled celebrations starting Saturday afternoon and stretching into Sunday morning.

Once the parade got underway, the streets of the city's Mount Vernon neighborhood became a throbbing mass of rainbow-clad marchers and spectators. People on floats flung beads, causing minor injuries to some lining the streets and delight to others, and politicians meandered through the crowds.


In the year that the Supreme Court decreed that same sex-marriage should be legal across the nation and the owners of Baltimore's iconic Hippo bar announced their plans to close, Pride was chance for celebration and reflection on changes the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement has seen in the past four decades.

Paulette Young was there at the beginning, helping to bring together the Baltimore Gay Alliance and organizing the very first pride rally. Back then, she never really believed things would change so quickly — in 1975 homosexuality had only just been taken off the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental disorders. Equal rights seemed very far off.


"We envisioned this, we had these dreams," said Young, 68. "But we never thought we'd see it in our lifetime."

But in the years after the Stonewall riots in New York, gay people began to organize and form groups in major cities. In Baltimore, Young's group ran a switchboard — 235-HELP was the number — so that gay people could connect and realize that they were not alone.

In 1976 they held a rally in Mount Vernon, and to her surprise, Young said, people showed up. Thirty-nine years later, she was on a train to New York when she got news of the Supreme Court's decision.

"People feel we accomplished something tremendous," she said.

Now Pride is open to all comers.

On Cathedral Street as the marchers assembled, employees of Starbucks and Bank of America mingled with men in all-leather outfits promoting the soon-to-reopen Eagle club. Black Lives Matter protesters held signs with the names of murdered transgender women while Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis got ready to walk the route.

Karla Reyes, who marched with the group Party for Socialism and Liberation, said that even as corporations glom onto gay rights it is important to remember that those rights were claimed by demonstrating in the streets.

"There's still a lot of rights to be gained," said Reyes, 25 — pointing to discrimination in the workplace and the problem of homelessness among young transgender people.


The parade worked its way slowly from Monument Street to Chase Street a few blocks to the north. The crowds became thicker the farther along the route the marchers went and at Read Street people thronged the intersection.

Jenny Shipley, 24, marched with her family from Frederick. She held a sign that read, "My family: 40% queer, 100% awesome."

Growing up as gay millennials, Shipley said, she and her sister sometimes hear that her generation has a sense of entitlement about its rights.

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"You always have to think back to a time before there was Pride," she said, and remember the battles people had to fight.

The real parties were scheduled to begin after the parade was over, with the intersection where the Hippo stands as the epicenter.

On the wall of the club, banners spelled out P-R-I-D-E. The owners of the Hippo, which opened 43 years ago, have said that it will close later this year and the building will become a drugstore.


But on Saturday afternoon, a DJ was sending dance music pulsing down the block from a booth outside the bar and a little after 4 p.m. a few people were already starting to dance.

One hour down, 14 more to go — Pride's organizers said an after party at the Horseshoe Casino would go until 6 a.m. Sunday.