Tens of thousands celebrate gay pride across Europe

July 05, 2004

Marchers in London Pride
LONDON — Dancing to the beat of samba music, tens of thousands of people converged on central London to celebrate Gay Pride on Saturday, while a similar number marched in the German city of Cologne and hundreds of thousands were expected at a late-night parade in the streets of Madrid.

More than 30 floats were decked out in full colour for London's festive parade, which set off under bright skies from Hyde Park towards Westminster and the Houses of Parliament, before continuing to Trafalgar Square.

A dozen samba bands set the tempo for the parade, which has been given official status as a street party, rather than a political rally, for the first time in its three-decade history.

"Thirty-two years ago this was a small demonstration, and now we have become a major touristic attraction," organiser Jason Pollock said in an interview with ITV television.

London's first ever Gay Pride march, in 1972, drew just 700 demonstrators, who faced an onslaught of insults from homophobic onlookers.

He estimated that 40,000 to 50,000 people had turned out for the parade, which has been dedicated to a Jamaican gay rights activist, Brian Williamson, stabbed to death in Kingston, Jamaica, last month.

Today, although the party spirit has largely taken over, the event remains politically significant.

"It's about being visible," in London "but also in smaller cities," summed up one young parader, who wore a period costume complete with powdered wig, in an interview with by Sky News television.

Paraders included Lord Wahid Ali, the first openly-gay member of Britain's upper house of parliament, and a delegation of homosexual police officers, including the deputy-head of the London Metropolitan police force.

London's mayor Ken Livingstone, who has vowed to strengthen the fight against homophobia in the capital, told paraders that he was proud for the city to host the celebration.

Many of the speeches delivered on Saturday focused on a bill aimed at legalising homosexual unions which went before parliament in March, rekindling the debate on the legal status of homosexual couples in Britain.

If passed, the legislation will guarantee gay couples the same rights as those enjoyed by heterosexual couples by 2010, including the right to adopt.

Festivities were to wrap up with a giant concert in the north London district of Finsbury Park, called the Big Gay Out, where dozens of rock musicians and DJs were to perform until 10:30 pm (2030 GMT).

The event's new status as street party means its can now look forward to a mention in London guide books and organisers hope to widen the parade's appeal to develop it into a major new festival.

But the change also brings extra worries — notably the vastly increased cost of holding the event, as organisers are asked to shoulder part of the cost of closing down streets and cleaning up the morning after.

In the west German city of Cologne — the unofficial capital of Germany's gay community — tens of thousands of people gathered for a weekend-long celebration which organisers expect to draw up to half a million people.

The rally is one of a series of events named Christopher Street Day, after a street in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, the scene of violent clashes between police and gay activists in 1969, which marked the birth of the gay rights movement.

Eighty floats were due to parade through the city on Sunday in the main parade of the event.

In Madrid meanwhile, organisers were gearing up to host up to 300,000 people at an after-dusk Gay Pride carnival – where revellers will be calling on the new Socialist government to stick to its campaign pledge to improve gay rights.

Central Madrid was to be cordoned off for the parade, being held this year under the slogan "The time is right", notably in reference to a government pledge to legalise gay marriage in the traditionally Roman Catholic country. – Sapa-AFP

Related stories
San Francisco gay pride parade now features married couples [28/06/2004]



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