The group that marched along Caroline Street on Wednesday evening was perhaps a little more brightly colored than other groups that have been seen in the streets of downtown over the past few weeks.

They wore rainbow-colored shirts, tutus, socks, tights, capes, headbands and even false eyelashes. Many wore rainbow face masks to protect themselves and others from COVID-19. Several were draped in rainbow flags.

It was the first Pride parade held downtown, according to organizers Black Lives Matter FXBG.

There have been other Pride events, but not a parade, organizer Broadway Harris said.

“Even though we’re focused on all the now, topical issues, Black Lives Matter— the national organization—believes in shedding light on other organizations and groups that also experience police brutality,” Harris said.

June is Pride month, when LGBT communities around the world celebrate and advocate for the freedom to be themselves.

The original organizers chose June because the Stonewall riots, a series of uprisings against police violence by members of the Manhattan LGBT community that sparked the modern gay rights movement, took place in June 1969.

This year, many major Pride events were canceled because of COVID-19.

Daria Shamble, one of the local parade’s organizers, said that’s why Black Lives Matter FXBG wanted to host the event.

“I want [our movement] to be very inclusive,” she said. “It’s bigger than [Black Lives Matter]. It’s so many issues.”

LaToya Spires, the founder of Safespace DC, which trains community leaders on diversity and inclusion, spoke to participants in Market Square before the parade began.

She told the audience that protests “fall on deaf ears” if those protesting don’t also vote.

“Voting is not underrated,” she said, noting that 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, and the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting.

Spires also called for those protesting police brutality and systemic racism and advocating for human rights for all to take care of themselves, so they can continue the momentum.

“When you’re ready to rest, rest, so you can get back out there,” she said. “Because they’re expecting you to give up.”

Harris then described his own experience of struggling to accept the fact that he is gay.

“I wasn’t worried about what people would say,” he said. “I was worried about what my Father would say. I went to church more often and I asked God to take this away.”

Harris said the struggle left him “suicidal and on drugs.”

Eventually, he decided to embrace who he was.

“When you live in your truth, that’s when you know you have pride,” he said.

Harris then led the crowd of about 200 people in a parade from Market Square down Caroline to Pitt Street and then up Princess Anne to Lafayette Boulevard.

The group stopped periodically to dance in the streets.

Back at Market Square, Harris said the city’s first Pride parade went well.

“We all just want love and to be accepted for who we are,” he said.

Adele Uphaus–Conner:

540/735-1973

auphaus@freelancestar.com

@flsadele

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