San Diego Pride Weekend kicks into high gear Friday with Spirit of Stonewall Rally, block party

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The 40th annual Spirit of Stonewall Rally and third annual Pride of Hillcrest Block Party were held Friday evening as San Diego Pride Weekend kicked into high gear.

There was a moment of silence at the opening ceremony in memory of the more than 100 AIDS researchers who were aboard downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.

Pride Weekend is supposed to be about celebration, but organizers say the crash victims could not be ignored.

"HIV and AIDS isn't just an epidemic within the LGBT community. It is a global epidemic, and when we heard about the tragedy that happened with Malaysia flight MH-17 and the researchers that were lost on the way to the international conference, we knew that it was appropriate," said Fernando Lopez, who is with San Diego Pride.

Actress and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocate Laverne Cox, best known for her role as Sophia Burset in the Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black," is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the rally.

The block party will raise funds for the Hillcrest pride flag.

"We have come a far distance as a community, and that is the reason why we ought to celebrate this," said City Council President Todd Gloria, who is openly gay. "We as San Diegans have always led on this issue."

The weekend will feature the annual Pride Parade along University Avenue Saturday morning, along with the Pride Festival in Balboa Park.

The parade, which organizers expect will attract up to 300,000 spectators, is set for 11 a.m. Saturday. It steps off at University Avenue and Normal Street, proceeds west on University Avenue to Sixth Avenue, turns south on Sixth Avenue, and ends at Balboa Drive and Upas Street.

Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, the first lesbian to lead the Legislature's lower chamber, will be the grand marshal.

The two-day festival begins at noon Saturday with multiple performance stages, vendor booths, beverage gardens and a youth zone.

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