Surrounded by friends, family, and his former college roommate, Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, former Boston Celtic Jason Collins stole the show at the city’s annual Gay Pride Parade Saturday — just two months after becoming the first active NBA player to come out of the closet.
Dressed in a black T-shirt that declared “#BeTrue” in rainbow lettering and wearing a bright smile, Collins marched toward the center of the train of parade participants, in step with Kennedy, who was his roommate at Stanford University.
In a personal essay penned for Sports Illustrated in April, Collins said he realized the need to go public with his sexuality when Kennedy told him about marching in the 2012 pride parade.
“Hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy,” Collins wrote.
“I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, ‘Me, too.’ ”
Collins was a favorite with the crowds who packed the Hub’s streets on a sunny afternoon to watch the parade.
“We love you, Jason!” shouted a coordinated throng of Northeastern University students, members of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, gathered near Boston Common.
“I love you, too,” he shouted back.
As he and Kennedy rounded the corner of the Common, three high-school-aged girls pleaded with him for a picture.
“I can’t stop marching,” he said with a smile, urging them to hop off of the sidewalk and walk with him for a moment to take a photo.
Thousands showed up for the annual march through the heart of the city. Gay ministers sporting purple gowns marched feet in front of members of the New England Leather alliance, many of whom wore tiny leather outfits and wielded whips and chains.
The parade was also a must-attend event for area politicians, with well more than a dozen candidates for elected office corralling supporters into clusters that moved up and down the rows of spectators handing out buttons, fliers, and signs.
“Let’s make history,” shouted Stephen Kerrigan, a former aide to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy who is running for lieutenant governor in the 2014 election. “Let’s make Massachusetts the state with the first openly gay lieutenant governor in the nation!”
Scores of Boston mayoral and City Council hopefuls worked the crowd. Some carried rainbow umbrellas and flags, and one — mayoral hopeful Bill Walczak — sported a full tuxedo topped with a rainbow sash.
“You can always tell which one is the candidate,” said one spectator, watching the parade near Park Street, as the 10th political candidate passed. “They’re the one running around screaming ‘Happy Pride’ the loudest.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren, marching with Democratic Senate candidate Edward J. Markey, was another crowd favorite as she sprinted from sidewalk to sidewalk yelling “Happy Pride” and taking photos with supporters.
Markey jogged quickly behind her as the two ducked out of the street and into the city-owned Parkman House for a photo op with Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
Markey’s opponent in the June 25 special election, Republican Gabriel Gomez, was also on hand, chatting with Pride Day participants in a booth set up near City Hall.
The event marked Menino’s first public appearance since undergoing surgery for an enlarged prostate. Known as a longtime vocal advocate for gay rights, Menino was named grand marshal of this year’s parade.
Menino has had trouble walking since breaking his leg in an April fall and relies on a cane or crutches to walk.
“I love this parade, I wish I could be out there [marching],” Menino said as he sat on a chair in the doorway of the Parkman House, where he remained for the duration of the parade.
Menino hosted a stream of parade participants who stopped by to thank him for his support of gay rights and vocal opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act.
Last summer, amid a firestorm of opposition over Chick-fil-A’s opposition to gay marriage, Menino wrote a letter to the fast-food chicken franchise, telling its owners that the chain is not welcome in the city.
The mayor, who announced earlier this year that he is not seeking reelection, greeted each of the declared candidates for his job with a polite “Hey, pal!” as they passed.
“We love you, yo!” shouted a woman marching with a group from the Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. to Menino, as the mayor posed for a picture with a shirtless middle-aged man sporting a mohawk and cutoff jeans. She was covered in glitter and wearing dozens of beads.
“You are the best mayor we’ve ever had!”
Moments later, recently elected State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry danced her way up to the mayor — to the sounds of Madonna’s “Vogue” — for a hug and a photo.
“This parade represents the diversity we have here in the great city of Boston,” Menino said.Wesley Lowery can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.