London gay pride group condemn Riga’s “return to dark ages”

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Campaigning charity and organiser of Europe’s largest gay event, Pride London, today condemned the decision of the City Council of Riga to ban the city’s Gay Pride amid threats of violence from extremist groups.

Pride London hosted EuroPride 06, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender celebration this year, attended by 600,000 people from all over Europe.

As part of the event, Pride London hosted a conference on the theme of Organising Pride in a Hostile Environment, and discussed the practicalities of holding Pride events in cities such as Riga.

Former EastEnder Michael Cashman, MEP for the West Midlands, a Pride London Patron and keynote speaker at the conference, said recently, “By acquiescing to these extremist groups, the authorities are condoning homophobic discrimination. Moreover the authorities are denying the Latvian LGBT community their basic rights of freedom of expression and assembly.

“If politicians in Latvia want to continue enjoying the benefits that membership of the EU brings then they should abide by the rules. The iron curtain came down over a decade ago. People’s human rights can no longer be disregarded.”

Emma Hands, Vice Chair of Pride London, said: “Even in 2006 Pride events still receive threats and counter-protests. But we still feel that, as an unequal minority in society, we still have a long way to go on the road to equality, even in London. Pride London believes that that the Latvian authorities are using this as an excuse to cancel an event they have failed to support in the past.

“In London we are proud that the Mayor and our police force stand by us and ensure the safety of everyone that takes part in Pride London. We urge the City of Riga to follow this example. We condemn this decision and the sweeping tide of bigotry and homophobia we are witnessing across the Eastern EU.”

This weekend’s gay pride march in Latvia was banned amid threats of violence from extremist groups.

The municipal authorities in the capital Riga were told that the event would be cancelled to avoid public disorder after Christians, nationalists and neo-Nazis threatened the parade with violence and a counter march.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of gay group OutRage still intends to join Saturday’s march in solidarity with Latvia’s beleaguered but defiant lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.

He said: “It is scandalous that a member state of the EU is giving in to threats and blackmail by religious fundamentalists and the far right.”

“It echoes the bad old days of Soviet tyranny.

“The government of Latvia has a duty to resist threats of homophobic violence, protect its gay citizens and safeguard the right to peaceful protest.

“Riga Pride is a litmus test of Latvian democracy,” he said.