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Security tight at gay pride events across country

People photograph a rainbow-colored cloud that appeared over the Willamette River during the Gay Pride Parade and Festival in Portland on Sunday, June 19, 2016. The unusual cloud delighted paradegoers celebrating in Tom McCall Waterfront Park. (Gillian Flaccus / AP)
People photograph a rainbow-colored cloud that appeared over the Willamette River during the Gay Pride Parade and Festival in Portland on Sunday, June 19, 2016. The unusual cloud delighted paradegoers celebrating in Tom McCall Waterfront Park. (Gillian Flaccus / AP)
By Steven K. Paulson Associated Press

DENVER – People in wheelchairs, walking on stilts and riding rainbow-decorated motorcycles turned out for gay pride events over the weekend, including participants in a Denver parade who carried posters of the names or faces of the victims who died in last weekend’s attack on a nightclub in Florida.

About 2,000 people took part in Denver’s PrideFest parade through town to Civic Center Park on Sunday as hundreds lined sidewalks. Crowds estimated at several hundred thousand attended a two-day festival in front of Denver’s city hall.

Security was tight at events over the weekend. In Denver, authorities set up security fences, bag checks, and police rode Segway scooters and walked with bomb-sniffing dogs.

Organizer Debra Pollock said in past years, the festival area was fenced in overnight, and when paradegoers arrived, they threw open the fences and people swarmed in for dancing and other performances.

“This year, they have to go through security,” Pollock said.

New Orleans authorities held a news conference Thursday to say extra officers and state troopers would be on duty.

Crystal Luna of Tampa, Florida, and Joelasa Oquendo, of Odessa, Texas, a married couple in the Navy, said they’d been a bit worried before the New Orleans event, but were reassured by seeing uniformed police officers.

In Portland, on-site security was up 25 percent from previous years.

No serious problems were reported at gay pride events across the country, but the mood for many people was somber. A small number of anti-gay protesters also showed up.

Forty-nine people were killed and more than 50 wounded when Omar Mateen opened fire inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12.

The motive for his attack is still unclear. He pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call, his ex-wife said he was mentally ill and his father has suggested he was angry with gays.

Other festivals and parades went ahead Saturday under increased security in cities such as Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, and Providence, Rhode Island.

Parades were also held in New Orleans and Syracuse, New York, and a beach party was planned in California.

Ron Freeny, a Vietnam veteran, said he drove to Denver from Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Sunday’s parade.

Freeny said he was forced to resign as a Navy lieutenant commander in 1978 after someone told military officials that he was gay. He said he was told that he could resign or be court-martialed.

“The country has made a lot of strides since then, but there are still some people in the military that have a dislike for our kind,” Freeny said.

In Rhode Island, extra police and fire personnel patrolled on foot. Several people donned capes made from rainbow flags. Others carried signs that read: “We stand with Orlando.”

In Syracuse, marchers with colorful face paint, glitter and rainbow capes marched through the streets under a heavy police presence, and in New Orleans, more than a hundred people led off a gay pride parade holding aloft hand-scrawled posters for LGBT rights and pictures of the Orlando nightclub victims pasted on pieces of colored paper.

Christi Layne, who helped organize Denver’s gay pride festival 40 years ago, said only seven people showed up for the original meeting, and only 2,000 people showed up for a parade that year. This year was different.

“We insulated ourselves 40 years ago. We had only like-minded people. Now this is open to the world and understanding is spreading,” Layne said.

People who have never attended a gay pride event showed up in Denver this year, including some who just wanted to express support.

Patrick Mulligan, who was wearing a rainbow hula skirt, said he has lived in Denver all of his life but never attended a PrideFest parade. He said he is not gay, but he wanted to show that hate and fear will not define him.

“After Orlando, I think everyone needs to show support,” he said.

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