Gay Pride Parade A Success
For the first time, the Riga Pride Parade went off peacefully, with little in the ways of direct violent conflict. Several hundred pro-gay activists and supporters marched through Riga's Vermanes Park this past Sunday, surrounded by a human shield of policemen in riot gear.
The supporters were peacefully marching for equality, and hoping not to get attacked as in previous years, as when anti-gay demonstrators had pelted them with eggs, fruit and excrement. The organizers were determined to let the parade go on no matter what this year, and to everyone's surprise it went off (relatively) peacefully. There were a few incidents, as outside the police barrier, several dozen counter-demonstrators shouted insults and carried anti-gay slogans. At one point, one of the leaders of the Latvian anti-gay movement, Christian fundamentalist preacher Alexei Ledjajev, unsuccessfully attempted to cross the police barrier with his bodyguards. Ledjajev had been spreading anti-gay propaganda throughout the tolerance events. But perhaps the scariest moment was the launch of two missiles into the air by two counter-demonstrators just as the march was ending. Luckily, the missiles only made a thunderous noise but no injuries resulted, and the men were arrested immediately.
On the supporting side were a British Ambassador, the Chief of Staff of the Swedish Navy and an member of the German Parliament, all ready to show support to the Latvian marchers. Several members of Amnesty International and activists from London were present to witness the parade. However, across town from the tolerance march a concert "against homosexualism" was held by nationalist and Christian extremists. The organizers' hate-soaked hearts were probably broken a little, however, as their expected attendance of 40,000 turned out to be little more than 1,000 people at any given time. Meanwhile, this year's successful conclusion of the march means Latvia, or at least Riga, is starting to accept change, and will perhaps in a few years become an increasingly tolerant place.