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Parade of pride opens eyes

Hoo went to see New York's gay pride parade? Chu did! Hoo got to see Senator Chuck Schumer? Chu did! Hoo got to see future New York Senator Hillary Clinton? Chu did! Hoo got to march on Fifth Avenue from 28th St. to 20th St. behind Mrs. Clinton and her Secret Service men? You guessed it, Chu did!

On Sunday, June 25, I went to support the 31st Annual Lesbian and Gay Pride March with a fellow Wahoo, Anjie Kim. We had such an exciting time watching and participating in this amazing celebration of gay pride.

Various celebratory events took place in the Big Apple during the month of June, Gay Pride Month. The most elaborate of these events were organized by Heritage of Pride, a volunteer-managed gay pride corporation. On June 13, Heritage kicked off its events by staging a rally in Bryant Park, a normally peaceful park in midtown Manhattan. On the 25th, they organized the parade on Fifth Avenue, a gay pride festival in Greenwich Village, and a dance at Pier 54 along the Hudson River.

Anjie and I joined hundreds of thousands of spectators at the gay pride parade that Sunday afternoon. As we approached Fifth Avenue, we were surrounded by people waving rainbow-colored flags and by religious zealots condemning us to hell. We found a cozy standing spot between 28th and 29th Street, where the Hillary Clinton campaign staffers had located themselves for the day. Clinton's workers handed us Hillary stickers and signs, and we dutifully promised to wave and shout when she passed by us.

What an exciting and colorful parade! My high school homecoming parades in Fredericksburg, Va. can't be compared to this parade of sparkling floats, fashionable drag queens and big-name politicians.

Almost all the prominent New York politicians were marching, except for Long Island Representative Rick Lazio, the Republican candidate running against Clinton in the New York Senate race. In response, Members of Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats (GLID) distributed flyers with a black-and-white image of Mr. Lazio stamped with "Where is Rick Lazio?"

While a few gay and lesbian groups were continuing to protest for equal rights in the march, many others were celebrating the advances in gay rights that were accomplished earlier this year. Vermont recently passed a bill recognizing the legality of same-sex unions and with the encouragement of Republican governor George Pataki, the New York State Senate passed the Hate Crimes Protection Act, which includes explicit protection for gays and lesbians.

Anjie and I cheered and waved as floats with men dancing in thongs drove by and as representatives from groups such as Altoids (yes, the "curiously strong mints") and the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) marched by. Dancers on the floats squirted water at us; marchers distributed flyers, stickers and tattoos, and the drag queens wearing six-inch platforms blew kisses at us. We decorated ourselves with stickers like "Hillary for U.S. Senate" and "Equal Rights. No More. No Less. Empire State Pride Agenda."

Many of the people standing around us came to the gay pride parade in hopes of catching a glimpse of Clinton. When Hillary Clinton and her entourage of Secret Service men and campaign staffers finally got to 29th St., hordes of people crowded around the police barricades to spot. Clinton in the crowd marching down Fifth Avenue. We all cheered like teeny-boppers at a Backstreet Boys concert. Unfortunately, because there were so many people surrounding Clinton and a security SUV was driving beside her, no one had been able to see her.

Following Clinton, everyone in the crowd ran down the street, and Anjie and I followed, pushed forward by the crowd. At the intersection of 28th St. and Fifth Avenue, people ran onto the street and joined Clinton's growing entourage. The mob of people swept us onto Fifth Avenue and suddenly, Anjie and I found ourselves marching right behind Clinton and her Secret Service men. Wow. I was marching behind the First Lady - and she turned around to wave and smile at us!

"Barney Frank!" shouted one of the women marching beside me. Everyone strained their necks to catch a glimpse of the openly-gay congressman from Massachusetts.

Once the thrill of having seen the First Lady and Rep. Frank subsided, Anjie and I focused on the crowds of people on the sidewalk waving and cheering at our group. For a few minutes in my life, I had the experience of marching on Fifth Avenue and waving to an enthusiastic crowd.

When we reached 20th St., Anjie and I decided that too much excitement for one day probably wouldn't be very good, so we slipped off Fifth Avenue. As we wandered around the area looking for a subway station, we discussed the exuberant emotions and friendliness exhibited at the parade.

The gay pride parade was such a fun-filled and educational experience because it allowed us to observe a passionate group of people voicing their opinions and concerns. The parade also gave us a chance to catch New Yorkers revealing their vivacious nature.

All of the parades in New York, from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade to the gay pride parade, showcase New Yorkers at their best. So the next time you're trying to escape the stony faces of New Yorkers on the subway, jump into a parade on Fifth Avenue.