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Despite a backlash against LGBTQ+ rights in Poland and Hungary, campaigners say the pride parade in Warsaw shows: "We are not going to give up."
A sea of rainbow flags flooded the streets of Warsaw on Saturday as people marched in support of LGBTQ+ rights and called for an end to discrimination.
The "Equality Parade" in Warsaw is the largest pride parade in central and eastern Europe. It also comes at a time of growing concern for the future of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in Poland and Hungary.
Thousands of people took part in Saturday's march, which was cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The number of attendees was smaller than in previous years due to restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Warsaw's mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski, headed up the front of the parade, with the liberal politician showing his support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Other onlookers waved their own rainbow flags from their balconies, cheering on those marching on the streets below.
While support tends to be higher in Warsaw and other larger cities in Poland, LGBTQ+ people face less acceptance elsewhere in the largely Catholic and heavily conservative country.
The pride parade is a "bitter-sweet moment for our community," Rafal Wojtczak, a spokesman for the organizers, told the Associated Press.
He voiced concern about the lack of progress in rights and worries about new threats. "Our community has been used in a political war," Wojtczak said.
Sylwester Cimochowski, a 22-year-old restaurant worker, told the Reuters news agency it was a "celebration of LGBT people and all those who have to fight for their rights."
"Homophobia is a huge problem in Poland ... there are lots of people who can't cope with it, they kill themselves. The situation of LGBT people in Poland is tragic and that's why I'm here — to support them."
Campaigners also said the event is an act of defiance against what they say is a rising tide of homophobia in the region.
"We've been through a very, very rough time, but at the same time, we are going out in the streets, and we are saying we are stronger and we are not going to give up,'' Miroslawa Makuchowska, vice director of Campaign Against Homophobia, told the Associated Press.
In Poland, LGBTQ+ people are still barred from same-sex partnerships and marriage.
The ruling populist PiS party, as well as the Catholic clergy, have been accused of boosting homophobia in Poland.
Polish President Andrzej Duda has also been criticized for saying "LGBT is not people, it's an ideology" and claimed it was "even more destructive than communism."
In 2020, several municipalities declared themselves "LGBT ideology-free zones," prompting censure from the European Union.
Saturday's march also comes on the heels of new anti-LGBTQ+ legislation passing in Hungary. Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government introduced a law banning the "display and promotion of homosexuality" for minors.
rs/jlw (AP, Reuters)