WABC-TV presented a special 2-hour live presentation celebrating Pride and the 50th anniversary.
The show featured performers including Janelle Monáe, Deborah Cox and Billy Porter, and appearances from a number of other celebrities.
With the city's massive Pride parade canceled, Sunday's performances were virtual, the flags flew in emptier than normal spaces and the protesters wore masks.
"It's a great thing to see because the original Pride started with the civil rights movement," Matthew Fischer said as he passed out hand sanitizer Sunday at Foley Square. "So we're really going back to the roots of that and making sure we encompass everything that empowers people to be who they are."
Fischer said it was important this year to show cooperation between the Black and LGBTQ communities, given the recent deaths of George Floyd and others that have sparked demonstrations against police brutality.
A number of people in the crowd at Foley Square held signs reading "All Black Lives Matter," with a black fist surrounded by rainbow colors. Most wore masks, though some scrapped social distancing in favor of hugging friends. One man held a sign advertising free hugs.
The disruption caused by the virus would be an aggravation in any year, but particularly in this one, the 50th anniversary of the first Pride march in New York City.
That June 28, 1970, event itself was a marker of the Stonewall uprisings of the year before in New York City's West Village that helped propel a global LGBTQ movement. Initially called the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, it looked much like the protests that have streamed through the streets of New York City daily in recent weeks over racial injustice. Marchers trooped to Central Park, chanting "Gay power!" and "Gay and proud!"
Cities around the world in subsequent years followed New York's lead, hosting commemorative events.
The historic Stonewall Inn, known as the birthplace of the gay rights movement, furloughed its employees and has been shuttered more than three months amid the pandemic. But it announced Sunday it will receive a $250,000 contribution from the Gill Foundation - money that will go toward several months of rent and utilities.
"I don't think things will really be back to normal for us until there's a vaccine, so this is a much needed lifeline," co-owner Stacy Lentz told The Associated Press. "It would be devastating to think about walking down Christopher Street and seeing that building shuttered."
Visual celebrations began on Saturday, a rainbow lit up the sky in front of the Inn. It reached more than 1,000 feet in the air as part of the celebration for Pride Weekend. The organizers said it honors transgender people of color who fought, marched, protested and really paved the way for the movement.
At Rockefeller Center, more than 100 rainbow flags have been placed around the center rink, and the plaza was being lit up in rainbow colors.
"The feeling doesn't go away because of the coronavirus," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in an interview during Sunday's special on WABC-TV.
Gatherings of large groups of people are still barred in New York City as part of an effort to control the spread of the coronavirus. Other parades canceled this spring included the St. Patrick's Day parade and Puerto Rican Day parade.
Still, people have gathered by the thousands since the late-May death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota. One of the largest demonstrations was a June 14 demonstration in Brooklyn, where thousands gathered for a Black Trans Lives Matter protest.
New York Governor Cuomo also delivered a special message during the Pride special on WABC-TV.
READ MORE: Everything you need to know about the NYC Pride Celebration