Gay pride festival heads for pastures new in Latvia

Thu Apr 9, 2015 10:18am EDT
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By Katya Golubkova and Gederts Gelzis

RIGA (Reuters) - Religion and politics are likely to make for a heady mix in Riga this summer when a former Soviet state plays host to Europe's highest-profile gay pride event for the first time.

The annual EuroPride festival will descend in mid-June on the capital of Latvia, a country forging ever closer ties with the West but still struggling with a legacy of intolerance toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

One in four locals takes a critical view of homosexuality and just one in 25 backs the decision to host EuroPride, according to a survey compiled last year by Latvian market researchers SKDS.

That mistrust reflects the country's conservative religious heritage, encompassing both the Western and Orthodox variants of Christianity, as much as its past as a satellite of neighboring Russia, where a clampdown on LGBT rights is in full swing.

For Kaspars Zalitis, co-chair of EuroPride 2015, Riga's welcome may be less warm than that offered by some previous host cities, but he still expects between 2,000 and 5,000 people to attend an event he hopes might become a catalyst for change.

"Why not create history and make it in Riga, even if some parts of Latvian society are not ready... Nobody has ever been ready for big changes," he said.

Taking place from June 15-21 and featuring lectures, exhibitions and a film festival, the event's centerpiece will be a parade through Riga's streets on June 20.

Zalitis said interest was building across many other former Soviet states, including Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as in Russia.   Continued...