The celebration is expected to be one of the largest LGBTQ gatherings in the world, according to organisers and officials.
For Emma Haynes and Annabelle Pierce, visitors from Alabama and Tennessee, New York City is not just a city up north that they're exploring together for the first time. To them, it's another country.
"To be gay in the Bible Belt," Pierce, 20, said, pausing as she struggled to find the right word, "it's difficult."
Haynes, 21, took in the Pride flags, posters and billboards practically on every street, noting that Pride flags were rarely displayed back home. "You can hold hands and not be stared at," she said, looking simultaneously excited, relieved and nervous.
The women are among 4 million people expected to arrive in the city this week to celebrate WorldPride and the 50th anniversary of the uprising at the Stonewall Inn in 1969, which galvanised the modern gay rights movement. But they're also here for themselves.
They're coming out for the first time — posting photos online of themselves as a couple — to a deeply conservative public back home.
As if to defy what could be a backlash back home, the young lovers wore matching T-shirts with the word "Pride" written all over them and rainbow socks. They took bites out of matching ice cream cones with rainbow-coloured sprinkles that they bought from the Big Gay Ice Cream shop in the West Village, where the 1969 clashes started.
Emily Bradley, 20, a friend who trailed behind the couple to snap photos and document their coming-out, chipped in, "Our America is different from this America."
WorldPride is expected to be one of the largest LGBTQ gatherings in the world, according to organisers and officials. Visitors from around the globe will descend on the city, drawn by New York's reputation as a haven where gay communities have thrived and queer people have typically been able to live more openly.
Hotels and accommodations are mostly full, with Airbnb rates comparable to those of four-star hotels. And businesses, from local barbershops to high-end fashion brands, have been displaying the rainbow flag.
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On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted: "Let's paint the town proud!"
The month long event of activities will culminate with the Pride March on Sunday, which runs down Fifth Avenue, starting at 26th Street. It then makes a turn at Eighth Street toward Greenwich Village and will head up Seventh Avenue past the Stonewall Inn, ending at 23rd Street.
Organisers expect 150,000 marchers and more than 160 floats featuring the cast of "Pose," as well as Andy Cohen, host of Bravo's "Watch What Happens Live," and some of the network's top stars, as well as same-sex couples in the Supreme Court case against California's Proposition 8, which limited marriage to a man and a woman.
"I look at this like the Olympics," said Cathy Renna, a spokeswoman for WorldPride, adding, "We want the city to embrace this, outside the epicenter of Greenwich Village, and it has."
On Tuesday, the police commissioner, James P O'Neill, said the Pride March would be the event's largest march, with 80,000 more marchers and 42 more floats than last year on an extended route that is 2.5 miles.
The commissioner also noted that the bulk of the street closings will be between Park Avenue and Ninth Avenue, from 23rd to 34th streets.
Some New Yorkers, like Jerry Holste, 70, have been grumbling about the influx of visitors. "Millions of people are going to show up. Where are we going to eat?" he said. "I hope that the city can handle it," he said, adding a sobering thought: "This kind of crowd — that's where the haters think they can target."
Ana Banuschi, 25, recalled seeing male protesters holding placards and shouting "Burn women and burn sex" at the Pride event last year.
"They were misogynists, and it made me so angry," Banuschi said Monday. Then again, "just a few minutes earlier, a girl had flashed her breasts at me," she added, shrugging her shoulders and smiling. "So I was trying to wrap my head around the two while navigating what streets to walk."
Her friend, Demi Louis, 23, said she was nervous about the heavy police presence. "As soon as anything gets tense, they are so ready to be there and break up an altercation that never was," she said. "It drives me insane."
Holste said he planned to march at the alternative Pride parade, called the Queer Liberation March. Organisers of the alternative Pride parade do not want police around the event in a show of solidarity for those who have been mistreated by authorities.
Earlier this month, the police commissioner apologised for the first time on behalf of the New York Police Department for the actions of officers during the raid at the Stonewall Inn.
Clashes with police began shortly after midnight June 28, 1969, when officers with the now-defunct Public Morals Squad raided the gay bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village.
Police said they had arrived to disperse the bar's patrons because the Stonewall Inn had violated liquor laws. Eight officers and an inspector arrived at the club and ordered about 200 people to line up and show their identification. Some were asked to submit to anatomical inspections.
The officers' behavior that night would quickly become a stain on the department and an electrifying force for the LGBTQ movement. On a recent visit, the bar proudly displayed newspaper cutouts from that time, including one from the Sunday News with the headline, "Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad."
Holste, who worked in advertising, recalled coming out in 1969, the same year of the Stonewall uprising, when homosexuality was still considered a form of mental illness. Even in the 1980s, when the AIDS epidemic broke out, he said, "you didn't want to come out because you were still defined as the other."
"We were forced to be underground, and we gathered in bars. That was our church. We talked about laws and what was happening. If you were a teacher or a public official, they would've fired you automatically."
But even 50 years later, for millennials like Haynes and Pierce, coming out is still a long and arduous process.
"It takes forever," Haynes said with exasperation. She said she was fired as a residential adviser at a Christian community college in Mississippi for being gay.
There are "watchlists" in school for people who are gay, added Pierce, who also goes to a Christian community college. "I could lose my scholarship if they found out I have a girlfriend." (Still, Pierce agreed to identify herself for this article even though she was aware of the risk.)
Still, attitudes have improved over the past decades. Holste was envious that young gay people could be openly affectionate. His partner died a few years ago, he said, and the pair never really had a chance to hold hands in public. Even with the changes, they had become accustomed to being restrained for too long.
"I wish it had happened sooner," Holste said, referring to the progress made for gay couples. "I had a nice pair of hot pants I never wore. They were silver," he added wistfully, looking down at his khaki pants and sensible black shoes.
"Now I'm too old to wear them."
Written by: Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura
Photographs by: Calla Kessler
© 2019 THE NEW YORK TIMES