WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Hundreds of gays, lesbians and their supporters marched Saturday through the capitals of Poland and Latvia, demanding more rights in Eastern European societies where they still face high levels of intolerance.
The parades were supported by the governments of the United States and other Western countries who are pushing for an end to discrimination and violence toward gays.
Homosexuality was a taboo throughout the communist era and that hostility lingers today, despite a growing sense of openness in the region since several of its countries joined the European Union in 2004.
About 2,500 people turned out in Warsaw while some 400 braved rain and hail to march in Riga. The demonstrations are among many gay pride events taking place in June across Europe and elsewhere.
Both the Warsaw and Riga marches required massive police protection. Previous gay pride parades in the Baltics and Poland have been marred by violence and heckling from protesters, though this year the opponents were few and calm.
Ola Osinska, a 28-year-old who held hands with another woman during the Warsaw parade, said she has been attacked in the city three times for being a lesbian.
"It’s even worse in small Polish towns," Osinska said. "And even though I have been beaten three times, I am here today because I want to show that I will not hide."
In Riga, U.S. diplomats took part to show their support. They said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has asked American officials to be more active in promoting equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people throughout the world.
"Human rights belong to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. So we are marching in support of LGBT people here in Latvia, in the Baltics, in Europe, and throughout the world," said U.S. Ambassador to Latvia Judith Garber.
The U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Lee Feinstein, expressed his solidarity for Warsaw’s participants though he was out of town. He was among diplomats of about 10 Western countries who signed a letter supporting equal rights for gays and lesbians
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