by Rex Wockner -
SGN Contributing Writer
Three million at São Paulo pride parade
Step aside, United States, Toronto, and Sydney. Your Gay parades are not even close to being the biggest.
Organizers and media reported that the 14th annual Gay pride parade in São Paulo, Brazil, attracted 3 million people June 6.
And it even had a political theme: "Vote against homophobia: Defend citizenship" in the October presidential and congressional elections.
The cost of the massive event was paid by the federal, state, and city governments, the state-run oil company Petrobras, and the government bank Caixa Econômica Federal.
In the lead-up to Pride, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva issued a decree establishing a National Day Against Homophobia each year on May 17.
"The decree is the governmental recognition that homophobia exists in Brazil and that concrete actions are needed to reduce or eliminate prejudice, discrimination and stigma against the LGBT community," said Toni Reis, president of the Brazilian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Association, or ABGLT.
"We hope that Brazil's example will be followed by the 75 countries where homosexuality is a crime and in the seven countries where the death penalty exists for homosexuals," he added.
The decree was published in the Official Gazette on June 7 and took immediate effect.
CoE human rights head blasts pride incidents
The Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg, says member nations that impede Gay pride parades and celebrations are violating European law on freedom of assembly and expression.
Writing on his blog this month, Hammarberg singled out Lithuania, Moldova, Russia and Slovakia, where this year's pride events were "banned or subject to threats and violence."
"In Moscow, Gay pride events scheduled for 29 May were banned as the authorities claimed they were unable to guarantee the security of the participants, and they wanted to avoid traffic jams," Hammarberg said. "The organizers appealed against the decision, but the court upheld the ban. However, some Gay rights activists managed to hold a brief protest in central Moscow. Gay pride events in Moscow have now been banned for the last five years. This has prompted the organizers to file a complaint at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg."
Slovakia's Bratislava Rainbow Pride on May 22 "was marked with violence and attacks by neo-Nazi protesters, who threw eggs and stones and used tear gas," Hammarberg noted. "The route had to be changed and the parade could not go through the center of Bratislava. The police were criticized for not having allocated more officers to this event."
In Vilnius, Lithuania, on May 8, there were "more policemen than [pride] demonstrators" at Baltic Pride, the commissioner wrote. Although the Supreme Administrative Court stepped in at the last minute to un-ban the march, it "took place under heavy police protection and with a significant number of hostile protesters surrounding it."
Reports said 800 police officers protected 500 marchers from more than 1,000 anti-Gay demonstrators, who threw rocks, bottles, fireworks, and other items but failed to breach the police cordon, in part because officers used tear gas to keep them at bay.
A Gay pride rally in Chisinau, Moldova, was canceled May 2 after a court said it could take place only in a secluded park rather than downtown.
"The European Court of Human Rights has made clear that the State has a duty to protect the participants in peaceful demonstrations, specifying that 'this obligation is of particular importance for persons holding unpopular views or belonging to minorities, because they are more vulnerable to victimization,'" Hammarberg wrote. "The Court has also stressed that peaceful demonstrations cannot be banned simply because of hostile attitudes to the demonstrators or to the causes they advocate."
"The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are fundamental rights in a democratic society and belong to all people," he concluded.
The Council of Europe is Europe's main intergovernmental organization with a human-rights focus and is the seat of the European Court of Human Rights.
There is strong opposition to LGBT rights in some of the CoE's 47 member nations - overwhelmingly in Central and Eastern Europe rather than Western Europe.
In related news, on June 3, the European Parliament's Intergroup on LGBT Rights sent inquiries to the European Commission and the European Council "on why they failed to support the Moscow Gay pride," the Intergroup said.
"On 30th March, organizers of the Moscow Gay pride approached the Delegation of the European Union in Moscow, asking for their formal support to an event that has been banned for the last five years and has constantly sustained violence and arrests," the Intergroup said. "The ambassador declined to support the event, despite this statement from the High Representative on 17th May 2010: 'The European Union urges States to ensure adequate protection of human rights defenders, and remove obstacles which prevent them from carrying out their work on issues of human rights and sexual orientation and gender identity.'"
Moscow Pride also sought formal support from the embassies of Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
"Ambassadors either declined supporting the event or ignored the request, despite Czech, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Swedish and British embassies having supported Gay prides in other countries," the Intergroup said. "Although some ambassadors initially declared themselves ready to support the event, they appeared to subsequently withdraw their intended support following a discussion at one of the regular human rights meetings between EU ambassadors."
In a June 8 interview, Moscow Pride founder Nikolai Alekseev said foreign ambassadors are afraid of the Russian government.
"After I discussed extensively with several diplomats in Russia in past years, I think they are just scared of what could be the reaction of the Russian authorities if they were to host a reception on the eve of the Moscow Pride in their garden or if they were waving a rainbow flag on the embassies like the UK did in several neighboring countries," Alekseev said. "This is very silly, because Kremlin will not care. But none of the embassies has enough courage to do it and to be the first one to give a positive signal in our direction."
"The diplomats of several embassies have regular meetings on human rights in Moscow and they could agree on using the EU office for this purpose," Alekseev suggested. "That way it would not be seen as coming from one country but from the EU. But the EU ... prefers to write checks to human rights organizations than to send a political message to the Russian authorities. Of course, it is much more practical to sign a check. It costs less than political support. But we don't need and we don't ask for any checks. We need political support."
With assistance from Bill Kelley
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