UNDATED (AP) - In 1969, a brutal police raid at the Stonewall Inn bar in New York sparked violent riots by gay patrons.

Now, nearly 50 years later, police officers armed with assault rifles stand guard outside the historic bar, protecting patrons after the massacre at the gay nightclub in Orlando.

The irony isn't lost on the gay community that used to see police as the oppressor and counts the 1969 Stonewall Inn raid as the start of the gay rights movement.

Eighty-year-old New York resident Gil Horowitz took part in the raids. He says of the change in attitude by the police, "Once upon a time they hit us with nightsticks, and now they're our protectors."

At gay pride parades this weekend, that evolution was on display in cities like Denver, where police marched in solidarity and had a robust presence among the crowd of 300,000 plus people.

Jason Marsden with the Matthew Shepard Foundation says, "That's a snapshot of 40 years of progress."