The shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning didn’t deter the celebrations in Pittsburgh. The city’s annual Pride parade stepped off at noon followed by Pride Fest downtown.
Crowds started gathering more than an hour before start time, and many people said while they were sad and nervous, they did not want to stay home.
A small group of protesters stood along a couple of points of the parade route holding signs denouncing homosexuality and shouted bible verses. Right before the parade, a man who was raised by a lesbian couple got into a heated argument with one of the protesters.
The man, Joe Kiser, was visibly upset and was escorted away from the scene by a police officer after touching the protester’s Bible. He joined his wife and children to watch the parade.
“I’m here supporting equality 100 percent across the board,” said Kiser. “If they want to preach their message of hate after what happened in Orlando, I think that’s full of ignorance is what it is.”
As the parade got underway, organizers drove up and down the route asking for a moment of silence for the victims of the Orlando shooting.
Among those marching in the parade was the Renaissance City Choir. The group marched down Grant Street singing “Seasons of Love,” the iconic song from the Broadway musical "Rent."
“We’re just celebrating the diversity in Pittsburgh,” said Linda Dobos, who watched the parade with her husband.
She said she feels Pride celebrations are critical, even for those who do not identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex or somewhere else on the spectrum.
“I think there’s a lot of bigoted and racist people out there,” said Dobos. “We need to present a united and strong front against that kind of bigotry.”
Dobos was among many who were discussing the news of the day.
“Oh my gosh, it’s heartbreaking. It’s frightening, because if it's directed at the LGBT community, that’s heartbreaking. If it’s directed as a terrorist attack, that’s heartbreaking,” she said.
Darell Tucker was at Pride with two female friends. He echoed Dobos. Pride celebrations are important for uniting people, especially in the wake of violence, he said.
“This thing that happened in Orlando – like whenever that kind of stuff stops happening, then we won’t need Pride,” said Tucker, “but until then, we’re going to celebrate our uniqueness, our quirkiness and what makes us, us.”
For Tucker, part of that quirkiness is the glitter he had covering his entire goatee. But it goes further, he said.
“Sometimes people think Pride is a bunch of twinks walking around in underwear. Yes that is it, but it’s so much more. There’s more than what people see on the outside, so I just hope everyone really learns, especially with what’s going on in Orlando, that they get the true meaning of why we need Pride,” said Tucker.
Twinks is a term used for younger-looking, attractive gay men, generally in their teens and early 20s. And, of course, that demographic was represented at Pittsburgh Pride. But also present were women, older men, children, grandparents and many others. Tucker said that is what Pride is about – bringing people together and celebrating diversity.
Star Beler from Greensville said it’s important not to hide in the wake of tragedies like what happened in Florida.
“Otherwise people are going to get scared, and they’re going to go back to hiding themselves again," Beler said.
Governor Tom Wolf, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto were among those who spoke out against the shooting in Orlando. Following President Obama’s lead, Wolf has ordered all state flags on public buildings be flown at half-staff. Pride events throughout the state and beyond are scheduled to continue through June, which has been dubbed “Pride Month.”