Before the annual Pride Portland parade set out Saturday from Monument Square to Deering Oaks, organizers said they would not let the massacre last weekend at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, mar the event.

If anything, the mass shootings boosted participation in this year’s parade, said Michael Snell, co-chairman of the parade.

“There are lots of last-minute marchers,” said Snell.

Pride Portland, which represents Maine’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, has organized the parade for the past few years. The parade has been a June fixture for more than 40 years. This year 83 groups signed up to march, up from 72 last year, said Snell. He said the shootings in Orlando triggered an outpouring of support for Pride Portland.

Security was stepped up for parade. Pride Portland officials met with Portland police after the Orlando shootings to go over a heightened security plan for Saturday’s events.

“We always have our eyes and ears open, despite being in a city as welcoming as Portland,” said Doug Simpson, Pride Portland’s treasurer.

Portland police showed a presence at the parade kickoff site at Monument Square hours before the parade began at noon. An officer led a police dog around the square. Officers also were posted along side streets, and several police cruisers were parked nearby.

Police Lt. Gary Hutcheson said the parade went off smoothly with no public safety problems, thanks to efforts by the department and parade organizers. He estimated 3,000 people were at the parade.

Throngs of spectators lined the parade route up Congress Street and down High Street to the park. It took the hundreds of marchers and floats 50 minutes to pass through Monument Square while parade-goers cheered loudly, many waving signs denouncing the Orlando shootings, which killed 49 people and injured 53 last Sunday.

As one of four parade marshals, Portland resident Mary Bonauto, a lead attorney in the fight to legalize same-sex marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court, waved a sign that read, “We are in this together” and “Unidos Con Orlando.” The parade’s other three marshals were Portland activists Chris O’Connor and Jill Barkley and Betsy Parsons, former Portland public school  teacher and founding member of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, Southern Maine Chapter.

Marchers said they would not be deterred by homophobia or any fear generated by the Orlando shootings.

“Just being present is all about not running from fear. Years ago the parade was about acceptance. It is now more about standing up for what we believe in,” said Melissa Fairfield of Portland, a member of the lesbian group Dykes on Bikes, which traditionally leads off the parade.

Tara Lawrence of Portland, another member of the group, said it was important for her to be visible and celebrate who she is.

“If we stay home out of fear, we are letting them win,” said Lawrence.

A contingent from Wild Burritos & Burgers, 581 Congress St., was among the first to line up to march. The group put last-minute touches to a pirate ship float carrying people dressed up as gay icons, such as Cher, Madonna and the Village People.

Sparky Lindsey of Hallowell, dressed up as a bride to celebrate marriage equality, said she was determined to march and show her support.

“But my girlfriend is very leery and she stayed home,” said Lindsey.

Robert Kennedy of South Portland, dressed in a magenta sequined gown, said violence can happen anywhere.

“You can’t stop living,” Kennedy said.

Lisa Ward of Lisbon, dressed as Madonna, said she was proud of her niece, who traveled this past week to Pulse, the Orlando gay club where the shootings took place, to show her support. Ward said she did have some doubts about showing up Saturday for the parade in Portland.

“I thought about it. Then I thought, you can’t hide,” said Ward.

The parade was followed by a festival at Deering Oaks with performances, music, dancing, food and a beer garden.

Correction: This story was updated at 8:50 a.m. on June 19, 2016 to correct the number of parade marshals.

 


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