About 2,000 people held a gay Pride rally in Bulgaria’s capital last Saturday, protected by riot police after extremist groups urged their members to stop the event.
Such rallies have been attacked in the past by groups that oppose the call to legalize gay marriage in Bulgaria.
Guarded by hundreds of police and private security, the mostly young marchers walked peacefully through downtown Sofia on June 30, displaying colorful banners calling for love, equality and sexual diversity.
Ahead of the event, diplomats from many countries issued a joint statement supporting the Sofia Pride March. The ambassadors of Argentina, Austria, Great Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Serbia and the United States called the event “an opportunity to promote human rights and tolerance, celebrate diversity and denounce homophobia.”
This Balkan country of 7.3 million joined the European Union in 2007, but gays and lesbians still face widespread hostility in the country’s macho-dominated society and opposition to public events has been fierce.
The influential Orthodox Church had urged authorities to ban the rally, saying it would undermine Christian traditions. In a statement, the Holy Synod of the Church said it was “categorically opposed to the organization of such an immoral manifestation.”
In 2004, Bulgaria adopted an antidiscrimination law that protects gay rights, but it has proved ineffective.
Human-rights groups such as Amnesty International have called for an urgent overhaul of Bulgarian law to ensure that hate crimes, which often target LGBT people, are properly investigated and prosecuted.
Madrid Pride aims to uphold gay marriage
Thousands of people have joined an annual gay Pride march through central Madrid amid fears Spain’s conservative government may try to scrap a law allowing same-sex marriages.
Spain adopted its gay-marriage law when the country was governed by the center-left Socialist Party.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, leader of the center-right Popular Party elected late last year, has said he prefers civil unions to marriages. His party has challenged the law in the Constitutional Court.
The rally headed through some of the city’s main squares and avenues June 30 under the slogan, “Equal marriage rights. No tampering with equality.”
Casablanca: Gay cruise diverted
A gay cruise has been diverted from the Moroccan city of Casablanca with organizers saying they were turned away from the port.
The cruise would reportedly have been the first of its kind to visit Morocco, where homosexuality is illegal.
Over 2,000 gay tourists aboard the cruise liner MS Nieuw Amsterdam were told the stop in western Morocco had unexpectedly been cancelled.
Holland America Line and RSVP Vacations diverted the ship from the West African port on July 1.
Passengers on the ship received a letter saying: “Our port agent in Casablanca has advised us that authorities in Morocco have — despite previous confirmations — now denied our scheduled visit. For all of us, this is a very disappointing development. It was ultimately the decision by local authorities in Morocco that has necessitated us to adjust our plans.”
However, Moroccan Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad said, “We don’t ban cruise ships here and we never ask our visitors about their sexual preferences.”
He insisted additionally that the ship was free to return if the organizers so wished.
Article 489 of the Penal Code of Morocco criminalizes “lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex.”
Singapore highlights gay-rights debate
A record turnout for the recent Pink Dot gathering promoting gay and lesbian rights in Singapore offers the latest evidence that social attitudes toward gay residents are easing in the city-state, even though the government still criminalizes homosexuality.
In addition to attracting a record crowd of 15,000 people to Hong Lim Park — the only venue in the city-state where demonstrations are allowed — the fourth-annual Pink Dot gathering also drew heavier local media coverage than in past years and more high-profile corporate sponsors, including Barclays Bank, which was a sponsor for the first time this year.
Pink Dot — which is billed as a gathering to celebrate “freedom to love” irrespective of gender, rather than an overt political protest — has been growing in size and prominence in recent years. Attendance has swelled six-fold since its inaugural installment in 2009, according to organizers, and it also boasts corporate sponsors such as Google Inc., which signed on last year as the first multinational to sponsor the event.
“There has definitely been increased visibility” for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Singapore, said Leow Yangfa, a social worker. “In the early days, coverage was very limited but now [the local press] cannot avoid covering an event with 15,000 people.”
Some activists, however, have argued that the widening support should embolden lesbian and gay residents to begin pressing harder to alter institutional barriers against being gay in Singapore. That includes pushing to repeal Section 377A of the penal code — a holdover from British colonial rule that criminalizes sexual relations between two men and was repealed long ago in the U.K.
“Pink Dot is a sign in terms of shifting public opinion” as Singaporeans grow more open and accepting of the gay community, said George Hwang, a human-rights lawyer. “The next step for Pink Dot would be to galvanize the support it has garnered to concrete action.”
Singaporean authorities considered repealing Section 377A in 2007 as part of a broad review of the country’s penal code but stopped short, saying public opinion was still against such a move. Although sex between men is still criminalized in Singapore, the rule is not enforced.
Santiago: 12th annual Pride parade attracts 80,000
On June 30, Santiago’s 12th annual Pride parade took place with over 80,000 people demanding further advancement of LGBT rights in Chile.
Marcha por la Igualidad, or March for Equality, took place on a sunny winter day in Santiago, with participants demanding equality before the law.
The march was also attended by prominent politicians as well as by the British ambassador Jon Benjamin, who read a letter of support for Pride and LGBT rights on behalf of the European Union.
“When the family supports, society does not discriminate,” was the motto of this year’s march, organized by Movilh, Chile’s main LGBT-rights organization.
On a more serious note, the march commemorated the death of Daniel Zamudio, a young man who was murdered by neo-Nazis due to his sexual orientation, and his mother spoke movingly in his memory during the event.
The march celebrated the resulting passage of Chile’s first antidiscrimination law, which will include harsh legal penalties for hate crimes once the country’s president, Sebastián Piñera, signs it into law in a few weeks.
Majority of Scots support marriage
A major poll by Stonewall Scotland has revealed that the majority of the Scottish population support introducing same-sex marriage. A majority also believe that LGBT people face prejudice in society.
A poll of 1,968 people conducted by YouGov for Stonewall Scotland has revealed that three in five people believe LGBT Scots face public prejudice in Scotland today, with more than four in five of those saying it’s right to tackle that prejudice.
The poll, entitled “Living Together Scotland 2012,” shows that two-thirds of people support same-sex marriage, with half of people of faith supporting the proposal. The YouGov poll also shows that, in the last five years, 162,000 Scots of working age have witnessed verbal homophobic or transphobic bullying in the workplace, and 54,000 Scots of working age have witnessed physical homophobic or transphobic bullying in the workplace. Fifty-eight percent of people aged 18-29 say there was homophobic bullying in their school.
Colin Macfarlane, director of Stonewall Scotland, said: “We pride ourselves in being seen as a nation of tolerance and respect but this poll only highlights that, for thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Scots, the reality is very different. We only have to look at some of the deeply offensive comments made by senior clerics about gay people recently — likening loving same-sex relationships to polygamy and calling them grotesque — to see that prejudice still remains in some quarters. Thankfully, the research shows that the majority of Scots say this sort of behavior is not good enough and they want to see it tackled.”
The poll shows the growing support in Scotland for marriage equality, with previous polls showing similar figures of 61 percent (2010) and 64 percent (June 2012). In other words, a solid two-thirds of Scots support same-sex marriage, with numbers indicating a steady increase.