It was 1 p.m. on Sunday, on Fifth Avenue between 30th and 31st streets in Manhattan. The Beatles had arrived.
That’s what you would’ve guessed gauging by the ear-splitting shrieks, escalating to daring decibels as each person ascended the stairs to board what looked like a rainbow, waving excitedly to all the fans swarming them with iPhones recording the whole unbelievable thing.
The group's leader, Andy Cohen, wearing a “Silence = Death” black T-shirt, excitedly greeted them all with a kiss on the cheek and a proper fawning over their outfits.
Emblazoned on the side of that apparent rainbow was the explanation for the hysteria: “Bravo.”
To celebrate World Pride and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, for the first time Bravo assembled nearly 20 of its biggest stars from across the network to celebrate the LGBT community as part of the annual New York City Pride Parade.
Until the first-ever Bravocon later this year, this rainbow-shaped float is one of the only opportunities fans of the network have had to see so many “Bravolebrities” gathered together, and the Pride Parade, already a high-energy manifestation of ecstatic joy and unapologetic revelry, proved the optimal venue to stoke that fan excitement. As the Bravo float made its way down the parade route, people lining the streets collectively lost their shit.
“What a wild adventure, huh?” Real Housewives of New York City star Dorinda Medley, a fascinator of rainbow tissue-paper roses in her hair, said as she looked out at the crowd, not so much as wincing as several airhorns bellowed at once. Rather, she relished in the intention behind the cacophony. “Can you not feel the energy here? This is a moment in time.”
Milling about around her, in various iterations of rainbow and sparkle and couture, were fellow RHONY stars Sonja Morgan and Tinsley Mortimer; Real Housewives of Atlanta’s NeNe Leakes, Cynthia Bailey, Eva Marcille, and Marlo Hampton; Real Housewives of New Jersey’s Teresa Giudice, Melissa Gorga, and Margaret Josephs; Real Housewives of Potomac’s Gizelle Bryant; Real Housewives of Orange County’s Kelly Dodd; and, arriving draped in a tulle rainbow-colored cape the size of a California King bedspread, Real Housewives of Dallas’ Leanne Locken.
Also on hand, in addition to several drag queens and other familiar faces from the network, were: from Shahs of Sunset, Reza Farahan; from Southern Charm, Patricia Altschul; from Vanderpump Rules, Billie Lee; and from Below Deck: Mediterranean, Captain Sandy Yawn.
Standing next to her drag doppelgänger—Ginger Snap dressed in a replica of Yawn’s yachting uniform—Yawn, who recently came out publicly as dating a woman, was beaming so widely her smile practically stretched across Fifth Avenue. It was her first time at a Pride parade and, like many of the other women, her first time on a float.
Asked what she hoped the message sent from this historic gathering of Bravo stars is, she turned to the crowds. “That love is love and who cares who you’re with?” she screamed. “Follow your heart. If you’re married for money, get a divorce. Go follow love. I’d rather sleep under a bridge and be happy.”
Then she laughed. “But I don’t want to sleep under a bridge.”
As it happened, we were at that moment standing under a bridge—a rainbow bridge of sorts, only at the end of this rainbow, you’ll find Tinsley Mortimer dancing in a multi-colored tutu, tie-dyed shirt, and flower crown.
A Pride March experience is already an exercise in sensory overload, and that’s before you corral the most famous reality TV stars—with the biggest personalities, to boot—from across the country onto one float.
It also happened to be more than 80 degrees on Sunday, with a scorching sun. If anything, the heat was only taking the energy to a boiling point, with the Housewives using anything at their disposal to cool themselves off—fans, Bravo-branded paddles, Medley is using an actual paper plate—as they danced and blew kisses to the crowd.
As is typically the case when it comes to all things Bravo, there was a campy surrealness to all of it.
Somewhere at about 15th Street, Mortimer engaged in a grinding dance off with Gay Shark, a man dressed in a shark costume who is a fixture on Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen, while “Firework” by Katy Perry played.
Over the deafening screams from the crowds on Fifth Avenue as this was going on, you could hear one man shriek with hysterical glee, “I can’t believe this is happening!”
It happened in various iterations for the next two hours, roughly what it took to complete the entire march. Throughout it all, the Bravolebrities never stopped dancing.
As Elton John’s duet with Kiki Dee, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” blared, Locken hiked up her rainbow feathered skirt and straddled the railing of the staircase leading up to Cohen’s DJ booth, writhing, waving to fans, and in some state of ecclesiastical bliss over the whole occasion.
In between hearty belts of the song’s chorus, NBCUniversal marchers next to the float mumbled under their breath concerns that Locken might fall. She didn’t—it seems God protects those having that much fun—though it wouldn’t have mattered if she had. The throngs of people having aneurysms of glee as the float went by would have caught her, raised her up, and Locken would have crowd-surfed the rest of the way to the Stonewall Inn.
Throughout the parade, Cohen, emceeing from his perch at a booth at the highest point, referred to the crew assembled with the sort of astonished joy he’s mastered as host of Watch What Happens Live: “These are the Bravo All Stars! Can you believe it?!”
It’s remarkable how quickly the outrageous becomes immediately ordinary when you’re talking about Bravo. And also, when it comes to it, the Pride March, and its blocks-long confetti-blast of color, costume, celebrities, and unabashed queerness. By the time someone in a g-string and pasties walking on stilts passes by, you don’t blink an eye.
Southern Charm matriarch Altschul held a canary-colored parasol over my head to shade the two of us—and Sonja Morgan, dressed in metallic, sexy wrap over a peakaboo bikini—while we talk about the various causes they’ve supported over the years, including decades of support for the LGBTQ community.
“Being a Morgan I know what it’s like to be an Altschul,” Morgan said. “We’re philanthropists to the bone.”
She gestured over to a bench next to the staircase leading up to a rainbow platform where RHONJ stars Gorga and Josephs, RHOP’s Bryant, and Mortimer were dancing to a Diana Ross song and waving at marchers heading to the parade’s start.
Right below them, drag queen versions of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills stars Lisa Rinna, Lisa Vanderpump, and Erika Jayne, as well as a drag queen version of Below Deck: Mediterranean’s Captain Sandy, were handing out tiny pieces of paper with their Instagram handles written on them to the crowd below.
“Patricia has her own seat here. She’s the queen of the float,” Morgan said, fluffing the rainbow plumage on the four-foot-tall feather headdress Altschul was wearing. “It’s also because I’m old,” Altschul deadpanned. I started cackling. She winked. An ally.
As I talked to Marcille, who is pregnant with her third child, I found myself fanning her with a paddle bearing the face of RHOA co-star Porsha Williams. It was so hot!
The last time she had seen many of the women was at the Avengers-like gathering—at least in reality TV terms—that was the baby shower for Cohen’s son, Benjamin, last January. “A lot of them didn’t even know I was pregnant!” she said. “We all have our own paths, but there’s something that unites us, which is this Bravo family. So to spend time together and be able to celebrate everyone’s differences is amazing.”
The years have forged a strong connection between Bravo and the LGBT community. Many of the women who appear on Real Housewives have become icons, with catchphrases merchandised onto tote bags and coffee mugs, their songs staples of gay bar playlists, and, in turn, LGBT philanthropy a major touchtone of many Housewives’ off-screen lives.
“I think the gays see themselves in us,” Marcille said. “I think it’s that relatability factor along with the fantasy factor. It’s the glitz and the glamour, but at the end of the day it boils down to all the same things that we all kind of deal with when it comes to friendships and family.”
Medley remarked how wild it is to hear the things she’s said on RHONY become part of everyday gay vernacular: “I made it nice!” or “Clip!”
“We’re strong women and we really express ourselves for who we are, and I think that’s really representative of the LGBTQ community,” she said. “To say, this is who I am. This is why I am. We should be heard!”
With Cohen in earshot, she floated a programming idea: “We should have Housewives of the LGBTQ Community, don’t you think?”
“It is a mutual love,” said Altschul when I asked her the question.
That love was certainly felt as the float made its way past the Stonewall Inn, a confetti can shooting glitter into the air, raining down on dancing Bravolebrities while Madonna’s “Vogue” played, crowds screamed, and Cohen on the microphone yelled, “Thank you, Stonewall!”
A few minutes later, after turning onto Seventh Avenue, the float took off like a bat out of hell to the end of the parade route. Maybe Marcille was going into early labor, a few marchers joked while running to catch up. (It turned out the amount of attention the float was getting from the crowd was slowing things down; at various points, people were leaving their actual march teams to take selfies with it.)
Once the float parked and the carousing had died down, the seriousness with which the Bravolebrities took the opportunity to be a part of the march became evident.
As the NBCUniversal marchers who had been walking alongside the float gathered around, Cohen and Giudice took time to address them. “I love you all so much,” Giudice said. And Morgan delivered an entire off-the-cuff speech: “You know we’ve always been here for you, and we will always be here for you. Today is all about you.”