Thousands of lesbians and gay men gathered beneath the sunshine in Wyman Park yesterday to proclaim pride in their homosexuality and enjoy a colorful festival including performances by flamboyant female impersonators, carnival games and music by gay bands from throughout the East Coast.
But many admitted that once they left the park, their sexual preferences would remain secret -- for the sake of relatives, careers or out of fear of being attacked. Some shied away from television cameras. Others asked that their identities be withheld.
And therefore, they admitted, their "pride" was limited.
"Baltimore is home town to a lot of people, so the gay community here is still pretty quiet," said Arnold Bernstein, 56, a Baltimore native. "Washington and New York have large transient populations. But here, people have grown up in this city. And they wouldn't want their mothers or grandmothers to see them out at a gay parade."
"For me, it's a matter of losing my job," said a lesbian who works as a kindergarten teacher in Anne Arundel County. "I took a chance on being here today because it's important for me to be with everyone."
The teacher admitted that Baltimore's passage of a law forbidding discrimination against gays and lesbians makes this one of America's friendliest city's for homosexuals. But she said it will take time before there is a change in homophobic attitudes that make gays reluctant to come out of the closet.
"It's like a cycle," she said. "We're afraid of them [the straight community], and they are afraid of us.
"At least this festival shows that as a group, we are visible and we have a voice," she added. "As individuals though, we are still weak."
"It's like Christmas," said Kathy McQuade, a Mount Vernon resident. "That's one day where everyone treats each other nice.
"Well, in the gay community, Gay Pride Day is the one day we can all be together and say, amongst ourselves, this is who we are, and we are good, decent people," she said. "It's sad that the other 364 days have to be sort of closeted, but thank God at least we have one day."
The gala, sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore, was launched with an hourlong parade along Maryland Avenue from Lafayette Avenue to Wyman Park. The parade featured marching bands led by men twirling batons and dancing.
There were groups with serious political concerns, such as ACT UP/Baltimore, whose members conducted a mini-protest by lying in front of the reviewing stage where Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke stood with festival organizers.
The group, which lobbies for the rights of AIDS victims, chanted "While Schmoke lies, we die," and criticized the mayor for failing to implement programs that would provide housing and medical assistance for people with AIDS.
The loudest cheers went to the red-wigged, busty female impersonators, who rode past blowing kisses at the rowdy crowd.
One of the crowds' favorites was Beulah Lamont, affectionately known as "The Large and Lovely," a Baltimore man who tours the United States performing as a woman. Ms. Lamont said that off-stage he lives as a gay man.
In the Wyman Park dell, thousands gathered to enjoy entertainment and each other's company.
For Betsy and Ann, it was one of the first opportunities they have had to introduce their friends to their 5-month-old son, Jonathan. Betsy bore the child, conceived through artificial insemination, but she and Ann agreed to share equally the parental responsibilities.
"For me this day makes a big statement," said Betsy. "It's the first time we've come out as a family. And I'm so proud."