Betsy, a woman in a green knit shirt, short hair, and bermuda shorts, paused to look at the Gay Pride Day crowd of several thousand men and women compressed into an area one block long.

"You know, 99 percent of the time I have to cover up when I am with a group of (straight) people because I am a lesbian," said Betsy, who would give only her first name.

"It's so nice to be here today and not have to cover up," she said. "Everybody here understands me and I don't have to make excuses."

Few needed excuses to have a good time yesterday at the noon-to-dusk festival at 20th and S Streets NW, amid the balloons, streamers, booths and many colorful people. Some of them fit traditional homosexual stereotypes, but a vast majority did not. And many, of course, were just passers-by who stopped to enjoy themselves.

One man, dressed in tight jeans and a black leather vest, said, "You see me dressed like this today because it's a party, this is fun and it's okay to be a little camp.

"But if you saw me tomorrow, I wouldn't be wearing the leather vest. I'd be in a three-piece suit and my earring would be gone," said the man, who said he is an attorney for a national lobby. He asked not to be identified.

There were others who were not gay, quite willing to be identified, and to express their support for Washington's gays and to join in the celebration.

One of them was D.C. Mayor Marion S. Barry.

"I have been coming to Gay Pride Day since the early 1970s," said Barry, after waiting more than a minute for cheers and rousing applause to subside when he stepped up to the microphone.

"I am proud to be your mayor," he said. "If you could stand where I stand (on stage) and see . . . You've demonstrated your power not only in numbers, but in votes.

"In my administration, there are a good number of gays working with us, on boards and commissions," Barry said to more applause. "There are a good number of gays that we know about, and a good number that we don't know about."

For Barry, it was a political coming home to a constituent group that has supported him in city council elections and his mayoralty campaign last year. Gays contributed tens of thousands of dollars to his campaign and provided valuable workers, scores of homosexual men and women who manned phone banks calling voters and handing out literature.

Franklin Kameny, a nationally-known gay activist who is considered by many the originator of the gay movement in Washington, said, "Politically, the gay community has arrived. We are a political force in the district and one that is recognized, accepted as a full-fledged legitimate minority.

"All of politics is a two-way road," he said. "There are political debits and credits. Simply, Mayor Barry has assisted us and we have assisted and supported him. That's what politics is all about."

Four D.C. City Council members also took the stage to congratulate the gay community for its accomplishments. They were Betty Ann Kane (D-at large), John Wilson (D-2), John Ray (D-At large) and David Clarke (D-One).

"I was here last year when I was campaigning and it was election time," said Kane. "I want you to know that I have come when it's not election time."

The festivities continued into the early evening. Around 7 o'clock, strollers along Connecticut Avenue NW stopped to stare at several male couples walking hand-in-hand near Q Street.

Yesterday's block party was the start of Gay Pride Week, which runs through Saturday. CAPTION: Picture, Mayor Barry reaffirmed his support for gay rights Sunday at Gay Pride Day. Thousands attended the event. By Linda Wheeler - The Washington Post