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‘Love comes in all kinds of forms’: Baltimore Pride Festival marks 50th anniversary of Stonewall Riots

See some of the sights and sounds from the 2019 Baltimore Pride Parade. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun video)

Mirage Cruz windmilled his arms Sunday in a gold Rico Cavalli costume as he danced his way through a crowd of rainbow-clad families in Druid Hill Park to the driving bassline of Todrick Hall's "Glitter."

Baltimore's King of Pride 2005 wears a new outfit to the festival each year, and he decided on the 2017 Mr. Gay America presentation costume because it was "fresh and relevant, but also classic."

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"Be who you are authentically," Cruz said afterward. "When you find yourself, you are living your true pride."

This year's Pride celebrations marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a major catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States that followed a police raid on a gay nightclub in New York's Greenwich Village.

The relaxed family picnics in Baltimore's muggy Sunday heat bore hardly any semblance to the violent 1969 uprising in New York, but signs of the LGBTQ community's progress over the last half-century were everywhere.

Nicole Chase and her wife relaxed in lawn chairs, bobbing their heads to the sound of Miss Kelli, a transgender woman singing Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."

"This is the weekend that we set aside, just the two of us," Chase said.

Leia Morton, 2, ate a strawberry while sitting on a blanket with her moms, LaTia Morton and Tia Wilson, who live near the park.

"I want to teach them inclusion," LaTia Morton said, adding that the couple also has a son. "I need them to know family and love comes in all kinds of forms."

Kaiser Permanente, T-Mobile, SunTrust Bank, Giant grocery stores, Towson University and Johns Hopkins were among the corporations and institutions offering games, rainbow-colored giveaways and other Pride-themed promotions.

In addition to the festival's first transgender music performers, this year added a Vogue Ball — a dance contest in which competitors strike a series of poses — with prizes for the winners, said Pride Coordinator LaKesha Davis, who volunteers with the Pride Center of Maryland.

Davis, a Maryland probation agent who lives in Parkville, said she is proud of how far the LGBTQ community has come, but it still has a way to go.

"There are still too many laws and rules about who one can love," she said.

Miss Kelli, who is from West Baltimore, timed the release of her new album, "Transcendent," to coincide with this year's Pride and the Stonewall Riots anniversary. It features the song "Human," a reminder that LGBTQ people are "flesh, we're blood, we're life, we're love — we're human," she said.

The riots were "the foundation of the gay movement," the performer said. "For people to look at us as human, that was a major, major time in our life."

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The community still wrestles with issues stemming from the country's long history of prejudice against its members, she said.

"We're still fighting homelessness," she said. "We're still fighting discrimination. We're still fighting the lack of care for a lot of the LGBT community."

As always, fashion — much of it glittering and multicolored — was a central component of this year's cultural celebration.

Jennifer Brown stayed up till midnight decorating her "Llamacorn" shirt, which features a glittery llama with a unicorn horn, as well as a fringe she added with a pair of scissors.

The 26-year-old Charles Village woman is an outreach worker for the Power Project at Chase Brexton Health Services, which offered rapid HIV testing and distributed sexual-health related materials and other information.

The 2019 Pride Festival takes place at Druid Hill Park. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)

"It's important to keep people safe, represent acceptance and promote togetherness," she said. "We're all in this together."

Celine Mathijsen's outfit included a pair of rainbow-colored wings, a rainbow paint stripe down her leg and Under Armour shoes with rainbow soles.

Mathijsen, who identifies as bisexual, said she volunteered to help with last-minute logistics Saturday and attended the festival in the park Sunday with friends.

"People are still having a hard time being accepted as who they are," she said. "We need to advocate for people and let them know they're supported."

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