The annual Baltimore Pride parade event brought thousands to the streets to celebrate the city’s LGBT community. (Jay Reed / Baltimore Sun video)

Sporting 5-inch chunky heels he borrowed from a friend, Amit Dhir bolted down Charles Street, beating out five other contestants to win a high-heel race Saturday at the start of Baltimore Pride weekend.

Less than an hour later, Dhir would march in those heels with a group from Chase Brexton Health Care in the Baltimore Pride parade. The annual event brought thousands to the streets in Charles Village, Old Goucher and Charles North to celebrate the city’s LGBT community.

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The high-heel race, which spanned the block of Charles Street from 25th to 26th Street, signaled the start of Saturday’s festivities. Dhir, 28, said he ran the ceremonial sprint two years ago — when he also won. He came out again to support the city’s LGBT community, which he said he’s part of and serves in his work as a medical practitioner.

“Showing that pride and support… I think it’s very important for me,” he said.

Droves of parade participants and onlookers — many dressed in rainbow attire — took to the streets to put that support on full display.

Led by drag queen Shawnna Alexander and “The Voice” contestant Davon Fleming, the parade kicked off at about 1 p.m. Waves of marchers walked down Charles Street from 33rd Street to 23rd Street, waving rainbow flags and handing out candy, while attendees lining Charles Street cheered and danced along to music from drumlines and DJs.

Baltimore Pride parade to start in Charles Village, instead of Mount Vernon

The 2018 Baltimore Pride parade is leaving Mount Vernon this year, proceeding instead on Charles Street, from 33rd Street south to 23rd Street.

This year the parade moved slightly north, starting on the southern edge of Charles Village and ending at Old Goucher.

“I’m excited that it moved to Charles Village this year,” said Audrey Huang, 47. “I just really like this parade. I like this event.”

Huang sat in a grassy median on Charles Street near Wyman Park Dell with her partner, Calvin Tullos, 60, awaiting the parade’s start.

“We were looking for some excitement and we support gay rights,” Tullos said. “And with all the horrible stuff that’s going on in the administration now, we need as much support — visible, outspoken support — as possible.”

The Guilford residents estimated they’ve been to a dozen Pride parades. Other attendees, like Ashley Palmisano, were there for the first time. The 21-year-old said she’s had to work during previous Pride parades, but she took advantage of having Saturday off.

“I had to come down here,” she said.

Her best friend was marching in the parade, she said.

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The procession encompassed a wide range of stakeholders and entertainers. Marching bands like the Citywide Goldstarz and the Baltimore City Southside Marching Phenoms kept the sidewalk crowds dancing. Employees from companies including Under Armour, Booz Allen Hamilton and Giant Food made a showing. Political candidates including Richard Madaleno, who is running for governor, and Mary Washington, who is running for state Senate, brought their campaigns. And local leaders including Mayor Catherine Pugh and Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby marched in the parade.

“It’s really liberating,” Palmisano said. She attends school in Allegany County, where she said the atmosphere is more conservative. “Coming here it’s just like, wow. Everybody’s wearing rainbows. It’s weird for me to see this much support for my community.”

A block party followed the parade Saturday afternoon on Charles Street between 23rd Street and North Avenue.

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Sponsored by the GLCCB (the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland), Baltimore Pride continues Sunday with a kid-friendly Family Pride festival at Druid Hill Park from noon to 6 p.m. The event will include live music, food trucks, a drag stage and a family zone.

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