Despite the laughter, cheering and music that filled Market Street, there was a somber undertone to Sunday’s 36th Annual Gay Pride Parade for those marking the 25th anniversary of the first reported AIDS case.
G.W. Frederick said he moved to San Francisco from New York 26 years ago, before AIDS was a concern. Sixteen years ago, he found out he was HIV-positive.
“For 25 years, there’s been no cure,” Frederick said. “It was definitely devastating for me. A lot of my friends died.”
In the years since the first case was reported in 1981, more than 500,000 people in the U.S. have died from the disease. Life is better now than ever, however, Frederick said, given the effective medication he takes to combat the disease.
Frederick was one of hundreds of thousands of people from across the country who crammed onto Market Street — some even climbing trees for a better view — for the celebration. No official attendance numbers were available Sunday night, although police at the scene said the actual numbers were probably lower than the 1 million predicted by organizers.
Mayor Gavin Newsom, widely known for his decision to allow gay marriage licenses to be issued at City Hall in 2004, was cheered loudly as the 1931 Lincoln he rode in coasted down the street. He called this year’s celebration and the grim anniversary it marked “bittersweet.”
“The energy was great,” Newsom said after his convertible ride from Beale Street to 8th Street. “It’s a humbling thing” to be cheered by thousands.
Twenty-one-year-old Nairin Andrade said Sunday’s events were more somber compared with last year’s, likely due to the 25th AIDS anniversary. “This has been more peaceful. There’s less drugs and less alcohol,” Andrade said. “People are more serious about the cause.”
For 10 years, Terri Williams of Stockton has been coming to the annual celebration, she said.
“AIDS was a big thing” this year, Williams, 25, said. “There was a lot of impact on the crowd.”
Among the AIDS organizations that marched were the AIDS Emergency Fund, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, AIDS Lifecycle and AIDS Walk San Francisco.
Some organizations handed out not only condoms, but also dental dams and gloves, which Williams said are helpful in fighting AIDS.
As the parade wrapped up about 2:30 p.m., street cleaners got to work and thousands headed to Civic Center for the final celebration.