Diego Cagara / Spotlight News
ALBANY — Downtown Albany became much more colorful on Sunday, June 9 as droves of people came together for the annual Capital Pride Parade and Festival, which began at noon and ended officially around 5 p.m.
As June has been the de facto month for LGBTQ Pride Month, many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people were joined by their straight allies; many were adorned with rainbow-themed glitter, iridiscent outfits, and positive messages.
Capital Pride Parade, sponsored by Hannaford, began at State Street, then went through Lark Street and Madison Avenue, before concluding at Washington Park, which was where the Capital Pride Festival was held.
“Pride Month means hope to me,” said Martha Harvey, the executive director and CEO of the Pride Center of the Capital Region. “Pride Month is the recognition of Stonewall, LGBTQ and human rights, and protections and freedom of everyone, regardless of their sexuality or expression.”
Speaking of Stonewall, it helped explain why the immense celebration and turnout at Albany’s Pride events was expected, said Harvey.
She said that 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots at the Stonewall Inn, a prominent gay bar in Manhattan, where members of the LGBTQ community rallied against police officers in retaliation of a police raid at the bar on June 28, 1969.
At the time, discrimination was much more pronounced against LGBTQ people, where such people would often face ostracism from family and friends, risk losing their jobs,or worse.
The Stonewall riots served as a catalyst for the modern LGBTQ rights movement both in the United States and worldwide.
“When Stonewall happened, many people said, ‘This is enough. I’m tired of being discriminated against and not being equal,’” said Harvey. “How brave were those people all those years ago to stand up to the police and say, ‘We’re done. Stop arresting and harassing us. We’re not hurting anyone. We want to love.’”
Scott Levine, vice president of the Pride Center of the Capital Region, said, “We’ve come so far in 50 years and to me, Pride is getting everyone together in one voice for at least one day. It’s a very diverse community and we want to celebrate and stand up together.”
Levine added that he felt grateful that both the city of Albany and the state overall have been supportive of Pride Month and the LGBTQ community.
Examples of the city’s support include the creation of a rainbow-painted crosswalk on Central Avenue since late May — stretching between ROCKS and Waterworks Pub which are two local significant gay bars — and the raising of the rainbow LGBTQ flag over the state Capitol for the first time in history on Wednesday, June 5.
Harvey chimed in, “To see the Pride flag be raised over the state Capitol for the first time ever is wonderful. We are very fortunate to be in a very supportive state.”
Despite the positivity around, both Harvey and Levine acknowledged that the LGBT community still faces a tough road to acceptance ahead.
“There’s still kids coming out and they get kicked out of their homes or get beaten up in school, or get cyberbullied over social media which can be 24/7, even in New York state,” said Harvey.
“It’s a huge state with a lot of narrow-minded people. But it’s also important to remember that it takes a hell lot of bravery to be who you are.”
Levine said the Capital Pride events are meant to empower the community and as more people come out every year and attend them, “It’s really their first time going as they fully are. And they are accepted no matter what. It makes no difference in what labels society put on them.”
The Capital Pride Parade and Festival are not the only events that LGBT people and their allies can go to as a resource.
Capital Pride still has events scheduled through Wednesday, June 26 and people can go online like the Pride Center of the Capital Region’s website at www.capitalpridecenter.org.
With such resources, safe spaces and events, Harvey gave some advice to people who still do not feel comfortable coming out or accepted.
“Remember it’s okay to be who you are and not hide. Don’t give anyone else that power and it has to come from within and believe in yourself, regardless of what is said to you or what people think,” she said. “Don’t give them that power, you have the power in you and that’s all you can ever be.”