In city election year, elected officials and hopefuls brave a hot Fifth Avenue hike

U.S. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer (above) turned out Sunday, voicing no support for gay marriage, but assessing the prospects for other gains on Capitol Hill; the Rev. Al Sharpton marched at the invitation of Manhattan borough president hopeful Brian Ellner and was joined by the current beep, C. Virginia Fields, who is running for mayor; former Bronx Borough Pres. Fernando Ferrer interrupted a visit to Puerto Rico to be on hand as well.

Despite the growing number of contingents participating in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Parade and its staggering length, the individual units seem to grow thinner and thinner each year as more people excuse themselves from the obligation of marching on the last Sunday in June.

Yet, participation has become a must for politicians seeking credibility with LGBT voters and they were in more evidence than ever during this municipal election year, even if they don’t all support the theme of the parade, “Equal Rights: No More, No Less.”

New York’s U.S. senators don’t support equal marriage rights for gay couples, but they receive enthusiastic receptions in the parade. Charles Schumer was the first U.S. senator to join the city’s Pride Parade in 1999, the year after he defeated Republican Sen. Alfonse D’Amato with an estimated three quarters of the LGBT vote.

This year, he said, “Ironically, all the backlash against gay marriage has moved every other issue forward whether it be civil unions or [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act]. I think we can actually make some progress and shame the Republicans into doing some of the right things.”

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, by far the most famous person in the parade, entered it at 23rd Street and was greeted like a rock star all the way downtown. She said, “It is difficult to get anything positive done about anything” in the “reactionary” Congress currently run by Republicans

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, marching for the first time as a supporter of same-sex marriage rights, even though he is appealing a court order to immediately perform them, marched again right up toward the front of the parade.

The Democratic mayoral hopefuls had to be there, too, with poll leader Fernando Ferrer—who first came out for same-sex marriage as the Bronx borough president prior to his brief 1997 run for mayor—flying back from a conference in Puerto Rico to march. He promised to “marry my friend Doug Robinson,” a leader of the Out People of Color Political Action Club, to his partner Michael Elsasser if elected. Council Speaker Gifford Miller was flushed not just from the heat, but also from his coveted endorsement by the Empire State Pride Agenda that morning. Congressman Anthony Weiner, who has the nod of the Lambda Independent Democrats in his home borough of Brooklyn, said, “New York functions best because it is so diverse,” and noted he would talk to constituents like the “moderate to conservative” ones in his district about how “equality for all doesn’t diminish anyone’s rights.”

The city’s public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum, a heartbeat from the mayoralty, marched as did her chief rival, civil rights attorney Norman Siegel who is representing plaintiffs in one of the state’s same-sex marriage cases and has promised a “deputy public advocate for equality.” City Comptroller Bill Thompson, with no serious reelection challenger, marched. They all support same-sex marriage.

Congressman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat who represents the West Side and parts of Brooklyn, fresh from the reintroduction of his bill to allow immigrant partners of gay Americans into the country, made the surprising claim that it could be passed “in a couple of years.” Schumer and Clinton expressed support for his bill, but are not among the 12 Senate co-sponsors. Each said they would look at doing so. “Dividing people and relationships is so painful,” said Clinton.

At least two of the people who want to replace Eliot Spitzer as state attorney general next year were there—Mark Green, the former public advocate and 2001 Democratic mayoral nominee, who noted that it was his 18th appearance, and Sean Maloney, a gay attorney who worked in the Clinton administration.

Spitzer, who is running for governor, made a cooler appearance at the LGBT Community Center the week before, pledging his support for same-sex marriage rights even though his office is opposing those marriage lawsuits filed against the state. Spitzer has, however, issued an opinion that the state must recognize legal gay marriages from other jurisdictions such as Canada. Maloney said he agreed with Spitzer’s interpretation.

Seemingly everyone running for Manhattan borough president had the Pride Parade on his or her calendar, the two out gay and lesbian candidates making themselves particularly visible. Brian Ellner, an attorney and former president of Community School Board 2, attracted enormous attention to his campaign by getting the Rev. Al Sharpton to make his first appearance in the Pride Parade by his side. Sharpton has made no endorsement in the borough president’s race, and explained he was on hand to draw attention to the issue of HIV/AIDS among black women.

Ellner and Sharpton were joined by mayoral hopeful Virginia Fields, the current Manhattan borough president.

Not be outdone by Ellner, City Councilwoman Margarita Lopez, a lesbian from the Lower East Side who is also seeking the Manhattan borough presidency, had her mother visiting from Puerto Rico and appearing at the heart of her contingent in a pedicab.

“Today my mommy is your mommy,” Lopez said.

Among the other candidates for the Democratic nomination for Manhattan borough president, Assemblyman Scott Stringer, of the West Side, expressed pride in having received the endorsement of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, while Councilman Bill Perkins, of Harlem and the Upper West Side, talked about his leading role on passing the 2002 transgender rights bill. Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat, from Washington Heights, said, “Nobody knows better than me what it is like to be excluded and that we all need full equality,” he said. Assemblyman Keith Wright, of Harlem, sounded similar themes about understanding the impact of discrimination.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force had a contingent for the first time in 15 years according to Matt Foreman, the executive director.

The handful of anti-gay demonstrators marched up and down along the parade’s sidelines. Comedian Jeff Clinkenbeard, there with his partner of 24 years Kyaw Ta Hla, said he walked alongside the religious protestors saying, “We’re kidding! Jesus is gay!”

A gay couple from England who had come to see the parade found it “too political,” a comment that might surprise many New Yorkers who have noted the increasing commercialization of the event in recent years.

Judge Roz Richter, a lesbian, was there with her partner, Janet Weinberg of the LGBT Community Center. Richter said it is “still exciting” and important for LGBT youth to see the turnout of pride. Weinberg said the community has to keep marching “until we have equal rights.”

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