Thousands march peacefully in Warsaw gay rights parade
About 3,000 people marched peacefully through Warsaw Saturday in the Polish capital's annual gay rights march, an event that has been marked in previous years by official bans and violence.
The demonstrators marched through downtown Warsaw amid a heavy police presence, to the strains of loud music and led by a truck with a banner reading "Homophobia Kills."
The Equality Parade comes as an increasingly vocal gay rights movement faces off against conservative leaders who have openly denounced homosexuality.
Homosexuality largely remains a taboo in Poland and much of the region, and activists are up against a widespread belief that it is a perversion. This year's march attracted supporters from western Europe.
Farid Mueller, a Green lawmaker from the Hamburg state parliament in Germany, marched with a group of more than a dozen green-shirted activists.
Mueller said he was worried that the government would play "conservative politics regarding the rights of the minority, which are not a private or internal affair of Poland."
Also in Warsaw was Volker Beck, a prominent German Green who was beaten by nationalist youths at a gay rights march in Moscow last month.
"It is the first time in this part of Europe that we have had such a happy parade," Beck told the crowd at the end of Saturday's March.
Former Warsaw Mayor Lech Kaczynski, now the country's president, refused to grant permits for the parade in 2004 and 2005, saying allowing homosexuals to demonstrate openly threatens civilization.
However, marchers rallied last year in defiance of the ban - met by opponents who threw eggs and stones - and the attempt to stop the march drew criticism from throughout Europe. This year, city authorities granted permission for the event.
A right-wing youth group that is linked to a junior partner in Poland's coalition government called off a planned counter-rally Saturday, citing concern for public order.
"We do not agree to being pushed into a ghetto," said marcher Ania Kurowicka, a 21-year-old Warsaw University student.
"We do not want to be publicly called deviants, sick people or criminals," she added. "We don't want young people to think it is OK to throw stones at us because we are different."
Gay parades have been boycotted and booed in the whole region.
Many of formerly communist Eastern Europe's anti-gay groups find support for their position in the church, which has regained a strong foothold in society since the demise of communism in the early 1990s.
Last week, ahead of a gay rights march in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, the powerful Orthodox Church and conservative groups slammed homosexuality as immoral and abnormal.
The 500 homosexuals who turned out for the Bucharest parade were insulted and hammered with eggs.
In Russia, a small group of gay activists who defied a ban on a rally in Moscow last month were met by neo-fascist skinheads -- alongside fundamentalists from the powerful Russian Orthodox Church and other counter-protesters.
As in the Civil Rights Movement in the U. S. in the Sixties, it appears often necessary to
risk life and safety to achieve equality.