Scroll To Top
Pride

What is a Grand Marshal and what significance do they have?

What is a Grand Marshal and what significance do they have?

New York, NY USA - June 26, 2016: Grand marshall Jazz Jennings marches at 46th annual Pride parade to celebrate gay, lesbian and transgender community in New York city
lev radin/Shutterstock

We just named our first Grand Marshal, but what does that mean?

@andrewjstillman


All stand for the Grand Marshal

New York, NY USA - June 26, 2016: Grand marshall Jazz Jennings marches at 46th annual Pride parade to celebrate gay, lesbian and transgender community in New York city

lev radin/Shutterstock

You may have noticed we recently announced Sasha Colby and Anthony Bowens as Pride.com’s first-ever Grand Marshals (with more to come, so stay tuned!). What you may not know, however, is why we chose these people as Grand Marshals or what a Grand Marshal even is.

If that's you, no stress -- we’ve got you covered! Keep reading to find out what a Grand Marshal is, why they are important, and who some other notable Grand Marshals have been throughout the history of Pride.

What is a Grand Marshal?

Billy Porter Grand Marshal of 2023 New York City Pride March attends parade on Fifth Avenue on Manhattan in New York on June 25, 2023.

lev radin/Shutterstock

A Grand Marshal, first and foremost, is defined as “a person honored as the ceremonial marshal of a parade.”

In regard to Pride events and how this applies to the queer community, a Grand Marshal is usually someone who’s either a “local hero” for a city’s Pride or openly queer members within the LGBTQ+ community who have made significant contributions toward better inclusion as a society on a more public level, like celebrities.

A lot of times, this takes place on a more local level. San Francisco Pride has been appointing Grand Marshals as far back as 1973, when they named H.L. Perry their first Parade Marshal. They switched the name to Grand Marshal in 1986 for John E. Bush, where it’s been a consistent award recognized ever since.

New York City — which held the first Pride March in 1970 on the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising — also celebrates in annual Grand Marshal selections. 2024 consists of transgender activist Miss Major, as well as queer ally and supporter Michelle Visage. They also have Eshe Ukwell, Baddie Brooks and RobinDrake representing the three young leaders for the Youth Activist Grand Marshal category.

How do you choose a Grand Marshal?

sash colby pride grand marshal

Preston Meneses

A Grand Marshal can really be anybody the community finds fitting, but they’re usually doing something to make major waves and changes for queer people. Most cities that recognize Grand Marshals choose local representatives who do all of the hard work directly on the front lines of the communities. Other people make more of a global impact, like the Grand Marshals we chose to represent Pride.com.

For example, we chose Sasha Colby as our first-ever Grand Marshal because she’s the epitome of everything the LGBTQ+ community stands for, and her activism work helps many closeted individuals see what it’s like to live authentically. She’s represented her home state of Hawaii in GLAAD campaigns, helped out with voter registration for the 2020 election, and is one of the only trans women in the world to headline her own tour.

anthony bowens pride grand marshal

Courtesy of Anthony Bowens

With Anthony Bowens, he stands out and proud in the sport of wrestling, which has previously been known for its heteronormative culture. His decision to be out and proud both in and out of the ring has helped bring representation to the sport. He told us his form of activism is “not so much in your face. I like to be just out and visible and myself every single week, as successfully as possible.” We love everything he stands for, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s easy on the eyes, either.

Related: The rise of the soft jock and 10 of our favorite queer contenders

Why is there more than one Grand Marshal every year?

NEW YORK CITY - JUNE 28 2015: the 45th annual LGBT Pride parade drew an estimated two million spectators buoyed by the Supreme Court's Obergefell ruling on same sex marriage.Grand marshal Ian McKellen

a katz/Shutterstock

There aren’t any hard and fast rules when it comes to being a Grand Marshal, but the reason there’s usually more than one is the same reason there’s more than one Academy Award handed out every season: To represent the different categories.

Sasha Colby represents the entertainment field, whereas Anthony Bowens covers the world of sports. Local Grand Marshals usually include business owners, politicians, and community organizations who help bring representation to the forefront of change.

Randy Wicker Grand Marshal of 2023 New York City Pride March attends parade on Fifth Avenue on Manhattan in New York on June 25, 2023.

lev radin/Shutterstock

For example, in 2023, San Diego Pride named the entire drag community their Community Grand Marshal, which they define as, “An individual or group that has demonstrated outstanding leadership in the LGBTQ community over an extended period of years and/or has made an exceptional contribution in the last year.” They noted how often the drag community shows up in the center of the battle to make changes and how their work has helped change queer liberation for the better.

Other categories include the Icon Grand Marshal, which LA Pride announced as George Takei for 2024, as well as the Legacy Grand Marshal, which they gave to Cassandro El Exótico.

During the parade itself, people named in the categories usually ride in the front of the parade and in an open car to honor them.

What significance do Grand Marshals have?

San Francisco, CA - June 24, 2023: Grand Marshall Breonna McCree participating in the SF Gay Pride Parade up Market St to Civic Center. Theme, Looking Back, Moving Forward.

Sheila Fitzgerald

Because of the communal focus that shifts from city to city, Grand Marshals have a lot of significance. Atlanta Pride, which has honored Grand Marshals since 1992, allows citizens to submit multiple nominees for their Grand Marshal categories. This helps the community honor and uplift people they think are making the changes, and not just the people they’re being told are doing so.

On the more public scale in regard to media, Celebrity Grand Marshals have a lot of significance, especially those who don’t actually identify as LGBTQ+. Allies who receive Grand Marshal status do so because of their stark and outright contributions to the community. They also don’t do so quietly, and they don’t wait for months like Pride Month to showcase their support.

Because of the positive changes Grand Marshals make in the community, whether locally or on a global scale, their presence and activism help us all move toward the inclusive environment we crave, so they’re pretty significant people to reward every year.

Who are some other notable honorees?

Although the Grand Marshal awards mostly remain on local heroes, there’s been a growth of Celebrity Grand Marshals over the years to help represent various cities. The Celebrity Grand Marshal for the 2024 San Francisco Pride is Billy Porter, and he also served as the Celebrity Grand Marshal in 2023 for New York City. Fortune Feimster and Jax Smith take the role for Chicago, whereas Sue Bird takes the title in Seattle alongside Megan Rapinoe.

Related: Here's every Pride celebration happening in the U.S. in 2024

Other Celebrity Grand Marshals in the past have included Ian McKellen, Jazz Jennings, Angelica Ross, Edie Windsor, and Margaret Cho.

Outside of the celebrities, it’s really the local Grand Marshals who make up the bulk of the excitement. Pride is always a time for the community to come together and celebrate each other, and members of the community love the opportunity to uplift the people they see on a frequent basis who are a making a positive change on the ground level. Celebrities have the appeal and the following, but the local heroes are the ones in the heat of the fight at all times.

Stay tuned for the rest of Pride Month 2024 to see who else we have lined up in our first run of Grand Marshals.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

author avatar

Andrew J. Stillman

Contributing Writer for Pride.com

Andrew J. Stillman is a freelance writer and yoga instructor exploring the world. Check him out at andrewjstillman.com or follow him @andrewjstillman on all the things.

Andrew J. Stillman is a freelance writer and yoga instructor exploring the world. Check him out at andrewjstillman.com or follow him @andrewjstillman on all the things.