SAN FRANCISCO -- The 44th Annual San Francisco Gay Pride Parade attracted more than 100,000 spectators and participants under unseasonably warm and sunny skies Sunday.
The hundreds of motorcyclists of the lesbian group Dykes on Bikes took their traditional spot at the head of the parade and loudly kicked off the festivities with a combined roar. Corporate support was also strong with thousands of employees representing large companies marching through San Francisco's downtown to City Hall.
Apple Inc. had one of the largest corporate presences with an estimated 4,000 employees, including CEO Tim Cook. All the Apple-ites were clad in white T-shirts bearing a rainbow-colored Apple logo and the word "Pride" emblazoned on the front.
Search giant Google had a World Cup-themed float, and other companies such as Kaiser Permanente, Facebook and Whole Foods had large contingents. Representatives from a variety of religious organizations, such as the Church Ladies for Gay Rights were also on hand.
"Many religions use the Bible to try to beat people into submission," said Michelle Buggy, who was dressed in 19th century clothing along with four other women from a Sonoma church. "We want to show the love that's in the Bible."
Congressmember Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and assorted state and local politicians rolled along San Francisco's Market Street along with gay San Francisco Police Department officers holding hands with their significant others as their children skipped ahead.
Several elementary schools, summer camps and other groups representing families and children were part of the parade along with the San Francisco Gay Men's Choir, who belted out tunes along the way such as "New Beginning." Empty cans of glitter hair spray, liquor bottles and plastic beads littered the route that was thronged on both sides with cheering spectators.
Social media circles were abuzz Sunday when photos of Apple CEO Cook were posted showing him at a San Francisco pride-related event. Multiple Apple employees said Cook made a surprise appearance at company pre-parade festivities, where he greeted and took pictures with employees but did not join the sizable Apple contingent that marched in the Sunday parade down Market Street downtown.
Cook's sexual orientation has been a running subject of discussion among tech and business media, including an instance as recently as Friday on CNBC when a host described Cook as gay in a segment about a dearth of gay high-level business executives. The Apple leader has made no public statements about the matter, and Apple did not return phone calls Sunday night.
One year later
This year's "honorary grand master," was U.S. Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, who had the same title last year rescinded because of so many complaints. Manning is serving a 35-year sentence in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after being convicted of sending classified documents to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
She joined the Army as a man named Bradley, but changed her name to Chelsea after being diagnosed with gender dysphoria, the sense of being a woman in a man's body. Manning's supporters Sunday defended the decision to name her a grand marshal.
"She's a hero, she's a whistle-blower who exposed wrongdoing," said Jeff Paterson, founder of the Pvt. Manning Support Network. "She's the only openly transgender person active in the military."
Spectators and visitors have been flocking to the city for a week, crowding San Francisco's bars, restaurants and other public gathering places. The San Francisco Police Department opened two special command centers in the city and reported 65 public intoxication arrests along with six felony arrests Saturday night.
Nonetheless, for some veterans of the parade, the annual event has lost some of its edge as it gains mainstream acceptance.
"There's less partying," said Larry Pettit, who said he attended the first parade. "There's less sex. Everyone's interested in politics and no one is having sex."
Mercury News staff writer Robert Salonga contributed to this report.