“Everyone is really excited for this,” said Joseph Carrasco, a Long Beach High School sophomore and member of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance, as he marched and shouted “Long Beach GSA!” along Broadway in Sunday’s 28th annual Long Island Pride Parade.
“Obviously there’s a huge growth in it,” Carrasco said. “Last year, it was big, but not many people were in the parade, but this year it’s crowded. Because of Pride, a lot more people in Long Beach opened up to the LGBT community. Everywhere you look, there’s rainbow flags. Everyone is more inclusive and accepting.”
Carrasco was among the thousands who marched in the parade, hosted by the LGBT Network — the second year it was held in Long Beach — wearing colorful costumes and waving rainbow flags.
About 7,000 people marched this year, including survivors of the Parkland, Fla., shooting — 25 students and five school officials from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — who led the parade as this year’s grand marshals in honor of Long Island native Scott Beigel, a teacher at the school who died saving his students.
The students and teachers later attended a special paddle-out ceremony with surfers from Skudin Surf and memorial service on the beach, at which they placed flowers in the ocean to honor the 17 victims who died in the shooting, and the 49 people killed in the 2016 Pulse nightclub attack.
“I can’t imagine the pain that their community went through,” said Long Beach High junior class President Fiona Eramo, who helped organize a rally against gun violence at Kennedy Plaza in March in response to the Parkland shooting. “But their courage is truly inspiring, and it launched a national conversation to end gun violence.”
Despite the overcast sky and threat of rain, David Kilmnick, chief executive officer of the LGBT Network, said that 2,000 more people marched in this year’s parade, including 106 school and community groups, with about 18,000 people along the parade route, which stretched from Lafayette to Long Beach boulevards. Overall, more than 30,000 people turned out for the three-day event, which included a beach concert featuring singer Deborah Cox and other performers, a fashion show, a Pride Shabbat, a carnival, a 5K run on the boardwalk, vendors on the boardwalk and a food-tasting event with local bars and restaurants.
“It was a huge turnout,” Kilmnick said on Sunday. “I think you saw a lot of excitement out here, a lot of celebration and waving rainbow flags. We were one community today. It didn’t matter whether you were LGBT, straight, black, white, immigrant, woman, man, we all stood together as one united community. The rain didn’t stop people from coming, and this is great for Long Island and the City of Long Beach. The vibe has been electric. People have been happy and having a good time.”
The festival was sponsored by the City of Long Beach, LGBT Network, State Department of Economic Development, Bethpage Federal Credit Union, TD Bank, Nature’s Bounty Co., Long Island IVF Advanced Fertility Diagnosis and Treatment, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Honda City, Bai Brands, Prudential Financial, Bideawee, National Grid and Northwell Health.
“Long Beach is super excited to host Pride for all of Long Island,” City Council President Anthony Eramo said. “It’s just about everyone being proud of who they are and being themselves, and not letting hate take over the world. And having the Parkland students here is, I think, very emotional for a lot of folks. And it’s very special that we’re hosting them.”
Kilmnick said that funds raised from the event would benefit the LGBT Network’s anti-bullying programs in schools on Long Island and in New York City. He added that the LGBT Network has received a state grant for $103,000 and would reimburse the city $50,000 for its expenses.
Among the officials who marched in the parade were State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, County Legislator Denise Ford and members of the Long Beach City Council. On June 7, the town held an LGBT flag-raising ceremony — the first in its history — with local officials and gay-rights advocate Randy Jones of the Village People to kick off the event.
“I loved growing up in Long Beach because it was a diverse community,” Kaminsky said. “The movement that the Parkland students have started has really resonated in this area, and it’s a tremendous honor to have them.”