At the Denver Pride parade Sunday, where organizers estimate half a million people turned out to celebrate and support the LGBTQ+ community, one man stood out — in a wheelchair, no less — for his very public display of contrition.
“Recovering bigot,” read a sign held by the heavy-set man with a ZZ-top beard and rainbow-hued lei around his neck. “I am sorry!” the sign exclaimed. “Free hugs.”
When a reporter said she “knew” Anthony Bowens was into her, the crowd let her know that he wasn’t.
The internet was left sobbing.
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“It’s never too late! How amazing is this! Welcome to the good side, sir,” read one comment posted to video of the penitent parade-goer on TikTok.
Shared another: “I was raised ultra-conservative and didn’t start having my own views and letting myself see more than one side until about a decade ago… I’m sobbing.”
The born-again good guy was welcomed with open arms at the Pride celebration, video and Twitter pics show, as he attracted his own parade of well-wishers to take up his offer.
“To own up to your discriminatory beliefs and say: ‘I hear you, I see you, and I’m sorry,’ is top tier,” wrote the original TikTok video poster. “Everyone could learn something here.”
Emotions ran high at the Mile High city parade just days after shooter Lee Anderson Aldrich pleaded guilty to killing five and wounding 17 last November at Club Q in Colorado Springs, an hour south.
Club Q bartender Michael Anderson told ABC-7 in Denver the Pride celebration was a display of “strength and vigilance of fighting back and not being afraid.”
Shooting survivors were honored as parade grand marshals.
“Seeing folks like this, seeing ‘free mom/dad hugs,’ seeing affirming religious people marching: means a LOT to most,” one Twitter user posted. “I always tear up.”
“I very literally said, ‘Awwwwww!’ out loud,” wrote another. “My faith in humanity meter is now a little higher.”
“A good hug is what America needs,” another shared.
One Twitter user responded to the negative, and outsized, Christian nationalist response to the pic of the penitent one-time bigot.
“Hate is always a choice,” she wrote.