PHOTOS: Colors of the rainbow were bright at Pride Parade

Jun 3, 2019

Buffalo's Pride Parade began in the rain at Buffalo State College, but by the time it moved down Elmwood Avenue toward Allen Street, the sun was coming out. It really came out later for a party at Canalside.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Each year, the parade seems larger, as the area's array of people shows up and marches - for their employers, their bars, their social clubs, their theaters and the Gay-Straight Alliances at dozens of area schools. Those corporate employers seem the biggest change over the years, as the event moved from just a small parade to the colorful extravaganza with thousands of viewers.

Carlen was directing traffic near the parade beginning and talking about the real beginning.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"Back in the mid- to late-'90s, I remember seeing a whole small parade going down Delaware. It was a bunch of guys and I remember how they were cheering on, and I and several people were happy and smiling for them and there were hardly any people around to support them," Carlen said. "I saw some. I call them low-lifes, basically. They looked disheveled. They were not dressed nicely at all and their attitude really stunk. They were calling them all kinds of nasty names."

As Carlen directed traffic onto Elmwood, two AMR EMTs in their parade t-shirts had to leave the march and help co-workers get a young woman to a hospital after she had a medical problem in her home along the route. Then, they ran to catch up with their contingent.

Nick Weith was there with the Gay-Straight Alliance from McKinley High School, where past attitudes expressed by the principal wound up getting her suspended.      

"We're open," Weith said. "We had a school-wide cultural competency for all students and staff, which is a great opportunity for kids to find out about the community and our GSA and some of the services offered in Buffalo. So it was a great time (cheering)."

As the rain stopped and the sun came out, the colors of the crowd, the marchers and the parade floats just seemed brighter.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Andrew Johnston and friends live near the parade beginning, in a house marked by a giant rainbow arch of balloons.

"We have people stopping by, taking selfies in front of the rainbow," he said. "So everybody's included and it's all fun for us."

Johnston said everyone was having so much fun, he didn't see a need to head to Canalside when they had their own party right at home.

Pepper Mills was one of the most visible marchers in the parade, a towering mix of colors, stars and dress train. She talked of the bullying when in middle school and in high school before she dropped out. Mills said she was out and everyone knew it

Credit MIke Desmond / WBFO News

"I never really shied away from my sexuality. I was always very open about who I was. So, yeah, I definitely was an easy target for a lot of people to come after," she said. "But I deal with it. I did drop out of high school, but since then have graduated with my General Equivalency Diploma and I'm now a licensed cosmetologist."

Mills marched up and down the parade route, waving to the masses of Gay-Straight Alliance high school students showing where they stand on the issues.

Erie County Executive Poloncarz led a legion of county workers, with his personal interest in what the parade means.      

"I have a brother who is gay and it was a very difficult experience at that time," Poloncarz said. "And I watched him and my other brother and I had to protect him. Totally different world than today. Great to live in a community that is so open to diversity and equality today, but it wasn't always like that. So we have to honor and thank those advocates who came before, the LGBTQ advocates who fought hard for these rights because it wasn't always like this."

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

New York State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes was there, riding in the vanguard of the parade as it kicked off at Forest and Elmwood. State Sen. Tim Kennedy wasn't far behind, with his delegration marching.

"I was admiring the group of high schools that are here. By the hundreds, there are the students taking part and celebrating Pride Day and celebrating Pride Week and celebrating our community and the inclusion of everyone in our community," Kennedy said. "It's a beautiful sight to see when these young people, the next generation, pick up the torch and start carrying it, start talking about human rights."

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

This year, the parade celebrated what is considered the birth of the gay rights movement, the Stonewall Riots a half-century ago last Tuesday. Customers in a gay bar in New York City's Greenwich Village fought back against a police raid and it turned into a series of violent fights over the next few days, forcing changes in policing and creating a more militant gay rights force.