Billy Jones remembers his first Gay Pride Day on the streets of Washington more than a decade ago when he stood on the sidelines -- a gay man who wanted to join in but was able only to watch.
Yesterday, as hundreds of gay men and women marched in a noisy and colorful throng down 23rd Street NW, Jones was on the sidelines again, but this time as a parade official giving aid and support.
"The parade showed me the numbers of people -- of all ages and of all races and of all professions -- who were like me. Different," Jones said, explaining how the parade and festival helped him get to where "I can be me 24 hours a day."
What began as a small block party, where gays could for one day openly hold hands without shame or fear, has grown -- both in numbers and in purpose.
Thousands of men and women attended yesterday's annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Day, and it was a day for drinking beer and seeing friends. It was also a day to mourn the absence of friends who have died from AIDS and an occasion to protest government action and inaction on the disease that has ravaged the homosexual community.
"Fired up. Won't take it no more. Want money for AIDS and not for war," the marchers chanted. The parade started at noon at Malcolm X Park and went through Dupont Circle to P Street Beach and Francis playground at 23rd and N streets NW.
Members of a gay marching band, outfitted in red and white, swayed and danced with their instruments. Drag queens, makeup melting in the 80-degree heat, lounged on stretch limousines. Black-leathered and chained motorcyclists showed off with wheelies, a dark contrast to the lavender, pink and white balloons that formed a rainbow.
For some, the costume of the day was bright yellow rubber gloves, a not-so-subtle protest against the recent use by D.C. police officers of rubber gloves during a demonstration against White House policies on acquired immune deficiency syndrome. "Rubber gloves spread hysteria," read one placard. "Use condoms, not rubber gloves," read the other side.
Jeff Koenreich, gay liaison to the D.C. police, said he was saddened by those demonstrations. "My feeling is there is enough antagonism without the gay community taking part in it. I want to rise above it."
Others said they appreciated the help police have given the event -- directing traffic, controlling the crowd and manning a booth to recruit officers on the festival grounds.
Great variety was found in the aims of the 120 organizations occupying the booths. Lesbian and Gay Quakers dispensed literature. Parents and Friends of Lesbians/Gays signed up members and sold buttons and T-shirts. The Whitman-Walker Clinic displayed its message of "Play It Safe" on a giant hot-air balloon. Bet Mishpachah, a gay synagogue, handed out religious information along with noodle pudding.
Patricia Allee, Gay and Lesbian Pride cochairwoman, looked back over months of hard work and fund-raising. "It's the biggest and best festival ever," she said.
Two thousand people signed up to march in the parade, Allee said. She estimated the crowd at 15,000 to 20,000; police estimated it at 5,000.
"Look at all those people," Judy Welch of Woodbridge said. "We are all one. The rest of the year we are separate. But today, we are together. We are people who know and understand one another."
Staff writer John Ward Anderson contributed to this report.