As rainbow flags fly at the LA Pride Parade, 'we're going to continue to fight'

Los Angeles, CA - Spectators lined Hollywood and Highland boulevards as about 5,000 people would march in the parade this year LA's Pride Parade on Sunday, June 9, 2024 in Los Angeles, CA. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Spectators lined Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue as about 5,000 people were to march in this year's LA Pride Parade in Hollywood. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Clutching a sash and crown next to a friend in paper wings, Maliyah Heaven Espinoza was rushing down Hollywood Boulevard on Sunday morning. She had a float to catch.

The 32-year-old trans woman and human resource business partner, who was named Ms. LA Pride several weeks ago, was joining throngs of marchers and revelers in Hollywood on Sunday for the 54th annual LA Pride Parade, one of the oldest celebrations of LGBTQ+ culture in the U.S.

“I was inspired by the trans women I saw growing up,” Espinoza said. “So I'm glad that now I'm the person I looked up to and aspired to be. I hope to inspire the younger generation as well.”

A group of stilt walkers in different colors of the rainbow participate in the Los Angeles Pride Parade.
A group with the Rare Gems Productions participate in the LA Pride Parade in Hollywood on Sunday in Hollywood. (Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

The colors of the rainbow shone out along Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue in spite of the June gloom, with parade-goers claiming prime real estate as early as 8 a.m., three hours ahead of the parade's expected kickoff.

Businesses were decked out in banners representing several LGBTQ+ groups, including rainbow, transgender and pansexual flags. The dinosaur atop Ripley's Believe It or Not! was wrapped in a colorful scarf, oversize heart-shaped glasses and a sign displaying "Power in Pride," as anthems from queer icons like Donna Summer and Madonna blasted.

Read more: Photos: Los Angeles Pride weekend

Parade director Mariela Spirelli said about 5,000 people would march in the parade this year, including LGBTQ+ icon and former "Star Trek" actor George Takei and Los Angeles Fire Chief Kristin Crowley, the city's first female and first out fire department leader. The parade was expected to draw around 100,000 attendees, Spirelli said.

Espinoza said that Karina Kendrick, her friend in the angelic tissue-paper wings and white fur-covered calf boots, is her "trans mother," who helped her through her transition when she was 18.

Pointing to the wings, Kendrick, a 37-year-old hairdresser, said she was dressed up as a "trans angel."

"I felt biblically that angels were neither male nor female, so I am tying that into my outfit," she said.

This year's Pride celebrations, which kicked off last weekend in West Hollywood, come in the shadow of political battles over the rights of transgender youths in California schools. Last month, an effort to force schools to require teachers to notify parents of changes in their child's gender identity and limit access to gender-affirming care fell short of qualifying for the November ballot.

Read more: WeHo Pride paradegoers talk joy and inclusivity, trans rights and a thread of fear

Backers have promised to try again in the future, though Democrats in Sacramento have introduced a bill to ban such policies and California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta has sued a conservative school district that instituted a similar measure in 2023.

While a national L.A. Times poll recently found a major uptick in support for same-sex marriage, same-sex couples raising children and efforts to protect queer people from job discrimination, the poll found that Americans were less supportive of transgender and nonbinary persons.

Read more: Americans approve of LGBTQ+ people living as they wish, but their support drops for trans people, poll shows

Spirelli said that while Sunday's march through Hollywood was always meant as a celebration, organizers and participants have never forgotten the civil rights focus.

"As much as it is celebratory, the origin of the parade started out of protest. We definitely never lose that essence, while keeping it festive and making it a safe place for the community," she said. "We definitely encourage our groups to make clear it’s a 1st Amendment parade, so they can express what’s top of mind every year.”

A group of motorcycle riders in the LA Pride Parade with flags.
A group of motorcycle riders in the LA Pride Parade on Sunday in Hollywood. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

A crowd of onlookers erupted as the parade kicked off around 11 a.m. with a group of bikers called Motorcycle Contingent for Equality revving their engines and blaring their horns, rainbow flags waving as they rode.

Riders atop the TransLatina Coalition float — decorated with light blue, light pink and white flowers and balloons, with the trans flag emblazoned on the side — wore quinceañera dresses in celebration of the organization’s 15th anniversary.

Bubbles filled the air as the pop rock group Pinktastic Plastixx sped by in a bright pink Volkswagen Beetle, wearing outfits of the same color. Workers at Mel’s Diner rushed outside, catcalling and whistling, as a float carrying a group of men grinding in Speedos passed by.

Gina Campa, 56, had arrived early from Palm Springs to make sure she got a prime spot. Pairing rainbow socks with a Progressive Pride flag and matching sunglasses, Campa evoked Taylor Swift with a custom T-shirt reminiscent of the one the singer wore in her “22” video.

A regular at Pride parades since 2006, Campa emphasized that the event is about celebrating the freedom of coming out and remembering the fight for LGBTQ+ rights dating back to the Stonewall riots.

Campa said she grew up in a strict Christian household. When she was 18 and told her mother she was a lesbian, her mother accused her of being "demon-possessed." She didn't fully come out until she turned 34, after her mother's death.

Kendrick, who medically transitioned at 18, recalled a more difficult time when resources for transitioning were sparse, and medical care was often obtained through the black market. While she believes that acceptance of trans people will eventually increase, she expects backlash and fear-mongering to continue for the time being.

Until then, Espinoza said she has a message for the haters: "We're going to continue to fight, to be prideful, to be visible, and to show out and pave the way."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.