There were 550 confirmed marchers Saturday at Albany's first Pride March, an organized demonstration meant as a show of support and unity for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. 

Such marches have been an annual event in cities worldwide since 1970, when the first Pride marches began to mark the Stonewall Riots, which were a series of violent protests against a 1969 New York police raid of the homosexual-friendly Stonewall Hotel in Greenwich Village

Keith Kolkow organized the Albany event, and he said he was nervous right up to the hour before the 10 a.m. start of the march, which began in front of the Albany City Hall. But when the street became filled with costumed marchers, rainbow flags and motorcycles, with colorful sidewalk chalk art declaring messages like, "You are loved, you are welcome, you are supported," and "We are all equal," he began to settle down and focus on kicking off the march.

Notable in the crowd were at least a dozen representatives from the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Corvallis. Congregation member Ann Hawkins said Christianity and LGBT rights are one in the same.

"We believe the message of the gospel is one of love," she said. "Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality and had very much to say about love."

The march comes on the heels of a contentious July 12 city council meeting at which council members heard pleas from residents to include the words "equity" and "diversity" in city code language describing the mission of the Human Relations Commission. When the council rejected the proposed changes, many in the community felt unheard. 

"I think the council meeting last week went a long way to energize people," said march co-organizer Jerred Taylor.

"Equity and diversity and inclusion are not controversial," shouted one speaker just before the march. Another remarked how amazing it was to see how far Linn County has come, citing an ordinance, which is no longer enforced but is still on the books, that declares "no rights to homosexuals." 

The march kicked off, moving north up Broadalbin Street, with drums and rattling cow bells and marchers chanting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, homophobia's got to go!"

As the procession made its way west along First Avenue, the marchers stretched for two blocks, with the marchers shouting "Black, white, gay, straight — love does not discriminate!"

Turning south on Ferry Street and then hooking a left back to City Hall, the marchers encountered minimal resistance. One person shouted from his car, "Damn f****ts! Marching for what!?" but an Albany Police officer emerged from his patrol vehicle to encourage the heckler to move along, which he did.

"We got yelled at and we got flipped off," said march volunteer Eric Bowling afterward. 

Kolkow said many of the marchers came from as far away as Portland to participate.

Albany City Councilor Ray Kopczynski also marched. When he learned how large the turnout was, he remarked, "That's about ten times as many as I anticipated."

Contact reporter Neil Zawicki at 541-812-6099 or neil.zawicki@lee.net

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