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Parade shows gay community's pride

Mary Ann Roser
On Friday, Austin musician Patrice Pike sings 'Woman Waiting to Happen' at the Long Center during an Austin Pride ceremony themed 'It's a New Season.'

The cheers of fans wearing rainbow-hued shorts or socks and the thump of pop music pulsing over Riverside Drive kicked off a string of colorful events Saturday marking Austin Pride festivities, which drew thousands of people to downtown.

The 9 a.m. Austin Pride Fun Run 5K launched the fest's Saturday events but it was a new activity this year, said run organizer Joseph Halverson. The day included celebrity appearances , music and a parade through the streets of downtown starting at 8:30 p.m.

The Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event, estimates that as many as 45,000 attend the annual festival, which began in 2002.

For the first time, the Austin City Council made it an official city co-sponsored event "as a statement of support for Pride's mission" and to "promote equality for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community," said a news release from City Council Member Laura Morrison. The festival pumps about $1.5 million to $2.5 million into the Austin economy, the release said, which includes kids' activities, a pet parade, plays, films and a block party on Fourth Street.

All seven City Council members, including the mayor, planned to take part in Saturday night's Pride Parade, which drew onlookers from the parade's starting point on the South First Street bridge at Lady Bird Lake and hundreds of participants.

"I'm proud, and I'm open-minded, and it's a lot of fun," said Linda Salinas, aka, "Holly Peño," 32, of Austin, one of about 20 Lonestar Rollergirls who marched, er, skated, in the parade. "I'm here to support my friends and my family. My sister who is a lesbian who has been married for 16 years."

Sports teams were in abundance, including the Austin Lonestar Rugby team, which hasn't been represented at the parade in several years, said Christopher Mendez, 28, of Austin. "It means the world" to be there, he said. "We worked really hard, and Austin's our home. It's fun, it's quirky, and it has a sense of humor."

And there was no shortage of humor at the parade.

"It's so much fun," said Suzanne Creed, 43-year-old Austin woman who was the imperial crown princess of the United Court of Austin, a charitable organization that raises money to support other local charities. She wore a long gown and tiara and sat on truck bed with a group of well-dressed drag queens, who were going for the glam.

Chelsea Gomez, 18, and Raggy DeWitt, 17, of Austin, were going for the gawks. DeWitt wore a slinky black-and-pink cavewoman costume; Gomez sported a bikini top, a microscopic skirt and rainbow-colored furry coverings over her go-go boots.

"It's a great place to meet friends," Gomez said, adding that they showed up and would simply march wherever they could slip in.

Juan Garcia of Austin brought his partner and two small children to let the public know that it's possible for gay couples to adopt. "There are lot of children lingering in the foster care system, waiting to be adopted," Garcia, 38.

If you think librarians are demure, the parade might change your mind. Austin Public Library's BiblioFiles, a group decked out in wings and skirts of plastic - brave attire for a sultry, humid night - did a choreographed dance beneath their mascot of enlightenment, a huge owl that dazzled onlookers.

"They're beautiful," gushed Amythest Mauck, 33, of Austin. She was not too surprised to hear the group had been chosen as Best in Show among the parade's units, according to Ellen Scott, 56, a youth program specialist at the library and one of the marchers.

On Saturday morning, a runner bearing a huge rainbow flag and a rainbow-dyed buzz cut ran across the finish line at Auditorium Shores where Danny Flores , 24 , was one of the early finishers in what was the first race he has ever run, he said.

"It was fun, and it was the first of its kind, so it felt good to support it," he said. About 800 people registered for the race, Halverson said.

Marianne Van Houtte , 56 , of Temple, and her partner drove to Austin for the day and started with the run because, Van Houtte said, "I love to run, it's my passion." She got into the spirit of the lively crowd by adding a foam flamingo-shaped hat.

Evy Grace and her friend, Rachel Smith , 33 , followed suit by sporting tube socks that Smith calls Pride Socks - the name of a company she started in Austin to sell the socks.

On Friday, Austin City Council Member Randi Shade read a proclamation in which Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell declared June 4 QueerBomb Day.

Billed as an alternative to the Gay Pride event, which some critics said was not inclusive enough, the group QueerBomb drew hundreds to Brushy Street between East Fifth and East Sixth streets for its first pride celebration. The group has "found the current strategy and structure of Austin Pride to be non-inclusive, capitalist, heteronormative, safe and unchallenging," queerbomb.org says.

"You're hot!" QueerBomb member, Tamara Hoover , yelled to Shade from the audience.

"Thank you. My partner, Kayla (Shell) , is right there," Shade said to laughter.

"This is everybody's Austin and it's great to see everybody out and proud," Shade said.

joshundasanders@statesman.com; 445-3630

Additional material from staff writer Suzannah Gonzales.