LA PRIDE Marchers, Mourners Honor Orlando Nightclub Attack Victims

More than 400,000 people were expected at the LA PRIDE parade

Southern California's 46th annual LA PRIDE parade began Sunday with a moment of silence just hours after a gunman opened fire at an Orlando nightclub, killing at least 49 people in the country's worst mass shooting.

Some participants who marched and mourned wore black arm bands in memory of the victims killed at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, where a gunman opened fire early Sunday morning. The gunman, identified by the FBI as Omar Mateen, 29, of Port St. Lucie, Florida, died in a SWAT operation after what authorities described as a case of domestic terrorism. An ISIS-affiliated news agency claimed the attack was carried out by an "Islamic State Fighter."

The gunman's father told NBC News his son may have been motivated by hatred for the LGBT community. 

Sunday's parade in West Hollywood began at about 11 a.m. at Crescent Heights Boulevard. It continued west along Santa Monica Boulevard to Robertson Boulevard in a relatively somber procession that contrasted the event's usually festive atmosphere.

"I wouldn't have brought him if I didn't think we'd be safe," Liz Heron, who had brought her 9-year-old son told NBC4 radio partner KPCC. "Everyone seems to be in really good spirits. They're not going to let the event yesterday dampen it or silence them, which is great."

The message of love continued to echo throughout the crowd of hundreds of thousands.

"Forty six years ago, members of the LGBTQ community came out in cities across the country in response to the Stonewall Riots," said LA PRIDE President Chris Classen. "Today, we are heartbroken that so many of our brothers, sisters and allies were lost in this tragic attack. As we remember them today at our moment of silence, we must continue to show our pride, not just today but every day.

"Our brave founders made this happen to show the world who we are. We will be loud. We will be proud and we will celebrate in honor of all those lost."

Authorities said they received no specific threats to the parade, but safety concerns were elevated. Santa Monica police arrested a heavily armed man earlier Sunday who told police he wanted "to harm the gay pride event," Santa Monica's police chief said.


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Assault rifles, high capacity magazines, ammunication and chemicals used to make explosives were found in the man's car, police said.

"Our hearts go out to the victims and survivors in Orlando, an attack not just on our LGBT brothers and sisters, but on all of us," said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. "As we mourn the dead and tend to the injured and bereaved, we redouble our commitment to the essence of America — diversity and inclusion make our nation strong.

"Once again, a shocking act of violence forces us to reflect on the price of allowing easy access to fearsome weaponry. We must distinguish between the freedom to bear arms and the irresponsible policies that open the way, again and again, for our enemies to turn their hatred into explosions of deadly mass violence."

Deputies routinely patrol the parade, held every year since 1970, except for 1973 when infighting over displays the previous two years left the organizers in disarray. The parade was held in Hollywood until 1979, when it moved to West Hollywood.

The festival, which includes several concerts, began Friday and concludes Sunday. Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Carly Rae Jepsen was the main stage headliner.

The grand marshal was Jewel Thais-Williams, who owned the Catch One disco in the Mid-City area, which featured performances by such prominent entertainers like Sammy Davis Jr., Chaka Khan, Sylvester, Weather Girls and Rick James and was a community center for Los Angeles' black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning community. It closed last year.

Thais-Williams' selection as grand marshal illustrates a shift in the position away from celebrities to "community activists who we consider to be our own celebrities and who have fearlessly fought for equality for our community," according to Marquita Thomas, a board member of Christopher Street West, which organizes the parade.

Thais-Williams co-founded the Minority AIDS Project, which aims to help blacks and Hispanics affected by the disease. She served as a board member of the AIDS Project Los Angeles, which provides HIV/AIDS care and prevention programs and seeks to improve HIV-related public policy, and co-founded Rue's House, described as the first housing facility for women with AIDS.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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