NEW YORK -- Tens of thousands of gay men and lesbians surged through Manhattan yesterday, celebrating a civil-rights movement that took its first steps during a police raid on a gay bar 25 years ago and seemed in the last week to have come of age.
Crowd estimates varied. Organizers said 1.1 million people, including spectators, attended the march and rally. City Hall estimated 150,000, while police said the total was closer to 110,000.
The participants in the commemoration of what is now known as the Stonewall rebellion had their own reasons for being there. Some came to honor pioneers in the gay rights movement, to support one another, to protest, to rejoice, to remember the dead, or to offer a beacon for the living.
Among them were a Marine lance corporal in dress uniform, former FBI agent, a city firefighter, a police officer and an Eskimo from Alaska wearing a buffalo-horn choker and eagle-claw necklace.
Police Chief John Timoney called it "the busiest day in the police department's history," with a record number of officers called out for crowd and traffic control.
They were guarding not one but two parades -- an officially sanctioned one on the East Side of Manhattan demanding that (( the United Nations protect the rights of homosexuals worldwide, and a smaller, unofficial one up Fifth Avenue from Greenwich Village to make the point that the most urgent problem facing
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gay people is AIDS.
Yet a remarkable aspect of the day was the loose cohesion that seemed to occur, bringing together gay Republicans and drag queens and all the diverse elements of the gay-rights movement.
And when the two parades met at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, the authorized marchers halted respectfully to allow the rebel contingent to join.
They then converged in a vast river of humanity that continued to pour up the Avenue of the Americas and into Central Park
from 1:15 p.m. until 5:15 p.m. -- including a one-minute moment of silence at 3 p.m. memorializing people who have died of AIDS.
Once inside the park, the marchers settled in for a rally that lasted until 8 p.m. After a brief speech and some tap dancing by Gregory Hines, the crowd heard from Liza Minnelli, who told them that the Stonewall commemoration has a personal meaning for her. The riots began the day of the funeral of her mother, Judy Garland.
6,200 police officers
Unlike the event being commemorated, yesterday brought n clashes between marchers and police officers, and no arrests were reported. A police spokesman said the 6,200 officers on duty made up the largest number ever assigned to a single event.
The marches and rally served as a finale to the separately organized, Olympic-style competition called the Gay Games and a festival of gay and lesbian culture that had taken place over the past week. It came at a time when homosexuals have achieved unprecedented visibility in American life.
But many gay men and lesbians see a backlash occurring in the United States. In a half-dozen states, constitutional amendments have been proposed to repeal or prevent laws that affirm homosexual rights.
"Stonewall is still a struggle all over the country," said Edwin Greene, 41, from Cincinnati, where voters last year passed an initiative that removed all references to sexual orientation from a city human-rights law.
3' "There are these ballot initiatives
all over the country. This is the battle we are fighting today."
Five years in planning, the official march was led by a mile-long, 30-foot-wide, rainbow-colored flag symbolizing gay and lesbian unity.
Hundreds of volunteers had paid for the privilege of carrying the 7,550-pound flag. Their donations are to go to pay for AIDS services.
Drag queens and the mayor
Behind the flag, which billowed its way up First Avenue from the United Nations, apparently without any significant hitch, came the parade's organizers, including a few drag queens in glittering gowns.
Behind them came the politicians, including Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, surrounded by a tight knot of police officers and security guards.
A few onlookers booed the mayor from the sidelines, but others were pleased to see him and tried to get his attention. "He shows up," marveled Kit Stewart of Bayport, N.Y. "That's a start."
0$ Slightly farther back came the fTC Stonewall veterans, mostly men in their 40s and 50s who had seen their revolt become a rallying cry for a worldwide movement. Their impromptu rebellion began at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on June 27, 1969.
The unauthorized march set off from Sheridan Square, the site of the Stonewall Inn, led by a red Mustang convertible and a 1969 blue convertible Cadillac that was used and impounded during the Stonewall clash.
One of the passengers in the Mustang was John Paul Ranieri of Milwaukee, who said he was on his first return visit to New York since the Stonewall clash, when he was beaten and had to receive five stitches after a police officer hit him with a flashlight.
"The only way I can describe this experience is that it is like a Vietnam vet going back to Saigon for a reunion," he said.
Asked how he felt to see police officers lining the route, he said, "I still cringe. But what I find amazing is that they're protecting us today."