04/21/2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
Waving banners of gay pride and solidarity, hundred of thousands of people gathered in the national's capital on Sunday to celebrate the gay rights movement and to push for equal rights legislation. Celebrities in attendance included Ellen DeGeneres, Anne Heche, Kathy Najimy, tennis star Martina Navratilova and the family members of Matthew Shepard, the gay Wyoming student who was murdered in 1998. In addition to promoting political candidates compassionate to their cause and unveiling new panels to the AIDS Memorial Quilt on the Mall, those gathered at the six-hour rally were entertained by concert performances by Melissa Etheridge and Garth Brooks. Surveying the enormous midday crowd from the stage at the foot of the Capitol, Heche declared: "I gotta say I was straight for 27 years, and I never came to a party as big as this."