LGBT communities party across Europe

Gemma Pritchard August 7, 2007
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A record number of gay rights supporters across Europe took part in Pride festivities this weekend.

Belfast’s streets were alive with the sights and sounds of the 17th annual Gay Pride parade on Saturday.

Shoppers in the city were treated to a procession of colourful floats and flamboyant supporters as Belfast’s LGBT communities celebrated the finale of a week of gay events.

Organisers of this year’s celebrations, keen to top last year’s attendance of 6,000 supporters and revellers, were not disappointed by the impressive turnout.

Stockholm saw 500,000 people on the streets watching the annual gay parade.

In Amsterdam a fleet of over 70 boats sailed through the city’s historic canals on Saturday.

The flotilla and party afterwards is amongst the biggest of the year in Amsterdam, and one in which the city upholds its reputation as one of Europe’s gayest capitals.

Due to a number of factors, including a recent increase in violent homophobic attacks, this year’s event was more politically charged than ever before.

A number of gay men were assaulted in two separate incidents over the weekend.

An Irish man was attacked whilst out walking with his boyfriend on Saturday and two American men were attacked on Friday night.

One was beaten and sprayed in the face with pepper spray.

The police strongly suspect the attacks were motivated by hate towards gays.

“Social acceptance of homosexuality is not complete,” said Tijn Elferink, spokesman for the country’s national gay organization COC, according to the International Herald Tribune.

Heterosexuals always take part in the festival, but usually from the sidelines.

This year a designated ‘hetero-boat’ joined more than 70 vessels officially participating.

The hetero-boat “is a statement of solidarity,” Elferink said.

In another first, a boat for gay and lesbian teenagers also sailed in the procession.

Mayor Job Cohen initially refused a permit for the boat, arguing that underage participants were inappropriate.

However, he eventually agreed that the teenagers could sail provided their parents accompanied them.

One young participant told Radio Netherlands: “The message is: there are a lot of young gays in the world and they are getting younger.”

Their participation sparked international media interest. A 14-year-old boy, Danny Hoekzema, devised the plan to include a boat for LGBT teens.

Mayor Cohen himself sailed on the city’s new boat, ‘Schelto Patijn,’ named in memory of the city’s previous mayor, who died last month.

Patijn famously described Amsterdam as the “Gay Way to Europe.”

Also taking part in Amsterdam’s gay flotilla were boats from the European Commission, disabled gay and lesbian people, elderly gays and lesbians and an international delegation of activists from the Caucasus and the Balkans.

There were also Pride celebrations on Vancouver, Canada.

“The fireworks confirmed an attendance of nearly 400,000 spectators and we were definitely knocking on their door this year,” said John Boychuk, Vancouver Pride Society President.

“We had nearly 80,000 more spectators at the Parade totalling 385,000 people and the Festival attendance was 80,000 which is quite a difference from the 55,000 who turned out last year.

“We hope to host 500,000 people next year for our 30th anniversary.”

The Pride Parade boasted 140 float entries, the largest to date, as well as over 130 vendors at the Pride Festival.

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