PORTLAND, Maine - About 3,000 revelers gathered for the Portland Pride parade Saturday, near Monument Square in Maine's largest city, one week after a mass shooting in a gay club in Orlando, Florida claimed the lives of 49 people and injured dozens of others.
But participants were not deterred. The parade went on as scheduled, with the processional winding its way through the city before ending in an afternoon of festivities at Deering Oaks Park. The event's organizers, Pride Portland, estimated that upwards of 3,000 people attended the parade, which has been a regular summer event in Portland for nearly 40 years.
"We are a community that knows how to survive as well as come together, and not only mourn, but celebrate." said Jack Arter of Portland.
Still, Arter admitted to feeling some anxiety, as did others.
"I'm really confident and happy that I'm here, but there's always that fear in the back of my mind," says Marilyn Melons, who performs locally in drag under the name Melon Balls. Melons rode on the decorated float from Portland dance club, Studio 55, one of Melons' venues. "Like, I have mace on me," says Melons. "I'm making sure that I am paying attention to people, and I'm listening the entire time. And it's something that I'm worried about, but I also won't let that stifle me. I'm happy, I want to be happy."
Saturday's Pride parade was the first for Jean luc Habimana, 29, of Portland, who was there as part of Immigrant LGBTQ & Allies Network of Maine. Habimana, originally from Rwanda, has lived in Maine for one year. He says he never wants another tragedy like the one in Orlando to take place. "Our group, our aim, is to end homophobia. I need people to love each other, who don't have any time for hate," says Habimana. "It is very complicated from our community to be in Pride right now. But me, I took the first step to be here because I need to show them that we have to change."
Others marched in solidarity with friends and loved ones who are gay, lesbian, and transgender, with some parents wearing tee shirts declaring messages like, "Proud of My Son."
Despite the Orlando tragedy, and a foiled attack almost a week ago on the Los Angeles Pride Parade, festivals are going ahead across the country this week in cities such as Chicago, with dramatically increased security.
Organizers from Pride Portland say they worked with Portland police to establish a security plan prior to the event. And they say participation is actually higher this year than last year, with 83 groups appearing in Saturday's parade.
The parade and festival mark the climax of some 10 days of Pride revelry; the 2016 festival wraps up on Sunday with a Tea Dance at the Inn on Peak's Island.