WARSAW: EuroPride Held For First Time In Eastern Europe
The 17th annual EuroPride took place in Warsaw, Poland today, the first time the traveling event has been staged in Eastern Europe. Approximately 2000 Polish riot police were on hand to protect marchers from far-right and Catholic extremists.
The parade, part of the EuroPride gay rights festival, is meant to give a boost to the fledgling gay rights movement in Poland. Gay rights were strongly repressed during the communist era, and gays and lesbians have struggled since communism fell 20 years ago for acceptance in a society still strongly influenced by the church. "We feel like they are 20 years behind the Netherlands," said Ad Bakker, a 39-year-old from Holland who traveled to Warsaw to show solidarity with Polish friends. "But the atmosphere is good and we hope that EuroPride will help." A Polish friend of his, Sebastian Blaszczyk, 36, said the situation in Poland "gets better and better every year," but the country still has far to go in accepting gays. An initial police estimate put the number of participants at 8,000.Police arrested eight men for pelting the crowd with rocks and eggs. Unfortunately, among those attacked were my longtime friends Jerry and Martin, the latter of whom took a rock to the head. Jerry reports that Bibles were also thrown at them. Unswayed by the hatred, our heroes bought a hat to cover Martin's gash and continued on to Warsaw's bear dance party. Below, Martin displays his blood and egg-flecked shirt.
Catholic groups opposing homosexuality distributed pamphlets to parade goers with an image of Jesus Christ saying: "I have not come to condemn but to redeem." They also held prayer vigils at local churches "in the intention of redeeming parade participants." The decision to hold Europride in Warsaw sparked controversy in deeply-Catholic Poland -- where gays have long complained of intolerance, and openly homophobic remarks by politicians are far from rare. "We started lobbying already in 2005 against all odds and amid a very unfriendly atmosphere towards gay rights in our country," said Adam Biskupiak of the Equality Foundation, the Polish group which is organising the rally.
RELATED: Europride 2011 will be held in Rome.