SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Thousands of people from across Upstate New York attended the 2016 CNY Pride Parade and Festival on Saturday, flooding the annual gathering with conversations about the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando less than one week ago.
However, the festival was not a grim event. Despite the deeply somber start to the week's activities, the joyful crowd was determined to celebrate the culmination of CNY Pride Week with music, dancing and hula hooping.
Kathryn Conner and Megan Monahan of New Hartford, N.Y, drove more than an hour to attend CNY Pride Fest. It was Monahan's first time at the festival.
"I came out here to support the victims in Orlando," said Monahan. "They have a lot of love coming from us in New York."
Conner said she was completely shocked when she woke up on Sunday to hear about the Orlando shootings.
"It takes a lot to make me speechless and I had no words," said Conner. "A lot of my friends are LGBT so it hit close to home. It was absolutely horrible."
Conner said she expected Central New York's LGBTQ community to use their anger about the shootings to spread their message even more passionately.
"The world is filled with hate, but love will always conquer in the end," Conner said.
Keturah Thorpe and Jamie Stulir of Binghamton signed messages of solidarity to Orlando on a large blanket.
"For how far we've come as a gay community, it's crazy that something like that would just happen," said Stulir. "It's funny how they think it would set us back. The way [the shooting] brought people together is amazing. There's more awareness now for gay, trans and bi lifestyles."
They both felt assured that Syracuse police would keep festival attendees safe. However, Thorpe said she would be moving to a bigger city soon, and she worries about more mass shootings in populated places.
"I'm queer and I feel like a fear has been awakened that I didn't experience before," said Thorpe. "I don't want to show [my sexuality] as much."
Mary Gillen and Sandy Davis have attended the CNY Pride Festival for many years.Katrina Tulloch
Mary Gillen and Sandy Davis, a married couple from Mexico, N.Y., have attended CNY Pride Fest for many years. They said the Orlando shooting represented a tidal change in the way people talk about underrepresented groups in 2016.
"It isn't just Orlando," said Gillen. "There's bigotry and hatred of so many people. The rhetoric in our country has changed, and [Donald] Trump is driving that narrative."
Gillen and Davis tied hateful rhetoric directly to the presidential campaign.
"Trump initiates visible lash-outs against different groups of people," said Davis. "He's making it OK. He encouraging people to eliminate anyone who's different."
In the last 10 years, Gillen and Davis felt marriage equality become increasingly accepted. They grew up decades ago, when identifying as LGBTQ felt more like being part of "a subculture" than a community.
In last couple years, however, Gillen said that acceptance has shifted.
"We have felt safe as lesbians up until now," she said. "With Trump and the religious right, I'm starting to look over my shoulder. Do I have to watch my back again? Damn it, we're not afraid. We're not backing down. Those days are done."
Mayor Stephanie Miner marched in the CNY Pride Parade and her office increased police presence at this year's festival. At least two protesters stood outside the event on West Kirkpatrick Street.