Jennifer Collins, a transgender woman from Fishtown, arrived early at Independence Mall Sunday for her first Gay Pride Parade in Philadelphia, the city's 22d annual event.
Dressed casually for the weather in denim shorts and a striped T-shirt, her shoulder-length blond hair pulled back with a headband, Collins, 44, did not stand out in the crowd of several thousand in her less than garish dress. While many of the floats feature over-the-top displays of skin for shock value, many paradegoers do not.
For Collins, the parade serves to raise public consciousness.
"The more kids learn about it, the less hate they'll grow up with," Collins said. "And we do need to turn down the hate."
The parade route ended at Penn's Landing, where a Pride Festival featured community groups and retailers offered information and rainbow-streaked merchandise while entertainers performed on a stage overlooking the Delaware. Headlining the show was Jennifer Coolidge, who nearly stole the show as the buxom nail salon technician in 2001's Legally Blonde.
Winners of the parade competition were announced at Penn's Landing, too, with the Attic Youth Center taking grand prize, the Fruit Bowl Award. (It was a steamy day, and a nice bowl of fresh fruit would have been refreshing, but this fruit bowl was just an empty pun.)
Increasingly, Gay Pride events draw allies - parents and friends of individuals in the LGBT community. But Landis Osbourne, a judge at Sunday's parade and a member of the group that sponsors the Black Gay Pride Festival every April, said such support was harder to come by in the African American community.
"Our community is not as accepting," Osbourne said, "because they are more grounded in what the Bible says. In a world that is often less than inviting, Pride events make us feel wanted and welcome by society."
Nicholas and Anne Scull of Willow Grove were on hand to see their son Craig perform with the Flaggots, a flag-twirling troop that has been a consistent crowd favorite at the Pride Parade.
Anne Scull said her stepson was one of the first to perform in what was once an all-girl troop at Upper Moreland High. A Temple University graduate, Craig Scull lives in Collingswood and teaches dance at two locations in South Jersey and introduced a "homorobics" class at the Camac Center in the Gayborhood, whose nexus is 13th and Locust Streets.
"Unfortunately, he came out to us late, after he endured quite a bit of teasing in high school," his father said. "And that's a shame because we could have told him he was gay long before that."
As the father of two other sons, Nicholas Scull said he could see that Craig had favored his feminine side.
"Not to stereotype, but Craig did love Cabbage Patch dolls."
Brittany Moyer and three friends in their 20s drove in from Lebanon, Pa., to support their friend Frank Stickler's show of pride. Moyer made rainbow ribbons and T-shirts for her friends to wear, and Stickler said he was darn lucky to have such good straight friends.
"I'm here for the people who cannot be here," Moyer said, "for the people who are beaten or killed because of who they are."
All parades tend to draw politicians, so Joe Sestak, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, was on hand to glad-hand. District Attorney Seth Williams rode with his children in the grand marshal's float with Mr. Philadelphia Black Gay Pride and Mr. Philadelphia Gay Pride, both of whom wore evening gowns. And Chris Hayes, campaigning as the first openly gay candidate for an at-large seat on City Council, compared himself to San Francisco's late Councilman Harvey Milk.
And while some of the floats were not entirely G-rated (Woody's bar had a float featuring gay men in skimpy swimsuits and feather boas), just as many illustrated that gay and lesbian individuals live ordinary lives.
The Independence Squares, for example, displayed their square-dancing prowess using the same rather old-fashioned calls to "give that girl a swing," without requiring participants to dress in western-style ties and petticoated dresses.
The Fins aquatics swim team (again, swimmers who just happen to be gay) performed a politically tart skit with some members dressed as evil oil leaks.
And when Veterans for Peace stopped for a solemn moment in front of the judge's booth to play Taps, Donna Mae Stemmer of Pennsauken, who served 341/2 years in the Army, doing two overseas tours of duty and retiring as a lieutenant colonel, saluted with pride.