Amy Romeo, left, and Laura Bylund ride on a float during the L.A. Pride Parade… (Christina House, Los Angeles…)
Much has changed in the three decades Lynn Walker has been coming to the annual L.A. Pride Parade.
Walker, 83, saw parades when there was no talk of gay marriage, a concept that was an impossible dream. He saw parades at the height of the AIDS epidemic, when it took perseverance to find any cause for celebration.
Despite the victories and the disappointments in the gay rights movement, the parade has always been, most of all, "a lot of fun" for Walker, who watched the 42nd annual parade in West Hollywood on Sunday with a smile.
PHOTOS: L.A. Pride Parade
Walker was one of thousands who lined Santa Monica Boulevard, cheering at rainbow-covered floats, female motorcyclists and cheerleaders in drag.
But amid struggles for gay marriage and non-discrimination in the workplace, and in the wake of a recent survey by the Human Rights Campaign showing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teenagers are less likely than straight peers to be happy, the fun was mixed with a dose of activism.
"This year, with all the anti-gay legislation that's come out and the radical homophobic rhetoric, it is important to be vocal and visible and supportive" for the gay community, said Shayna Kessel, a 30-year-old West Hollywood resident watching the parade.
Down the street, a silent, masked person in a bridal gown held a sign reading, "Freedom and Equality 2012."
Before the parade, Katy Butler, a 17-year-old lesbian activist who was bullied because of her sexual orientation, addressed a crowd from a podium draped with a rainbow flag.
"Now we have to take a stand as youth to come out because it's our time," she said. "To all the LGBTQ youth out there: Come out. Come out for your friends and your family and community because youth are so powerful."
Chris Angel Murphy, a transgender 24-year-old, described his struggle for acceptance. There were no examples of transgender people in his school textbooks or on television, and he was depressed, he said.
"I want you to imagine for a moment that in second grade, I wanted to kill myself," he said.
He made a plea for other transgender youth: "Just hang in there."
Dozens of officers with the LAPD and L.A. County Sheriff's Department marched near the front of the parade.
Most carried small rainbow flags in their pockets — a dramatic change since the first parade in 1970, which members of the Los Angeles Police Commission attempted to prevent, citing the potential for violent reaction from bystanders.
West Hollywood Councilman John Heilman, who is gay, said the parade is extremely important for the city and the gay community.
"Just being out there in the parade is an incredible act of coming out for people," he said. "It's inspiring to see a whole group of people, not just LGBT people but also allies, here in support of our community."
Patrick Moore, an assistant dean of financial aid at USC, could hardly stop smiling as he straightened his red wig as the parade began.
Sunday marked his first L.A. Pride Parade as a member of the West Hollywood Cheerleaders, a group of male cheerleaders in drag that raises money for AIDS services and education. Moore, whose drag name is Hilda Climb, first saw the cheerleaders in the 1987 L.A. Pride parade.
"I'm 47 now, and I'm finally a cheerleader," he said. "In this parade, you get to celebrate your diversity and express your uniqueness."
PHOTOS: L.A. Pride Parade