Updated: Monday, 05 May 2014 06:51 | By Agence France-Presse

Sao Paulo gay pride parade calls for equal rights

Revelers thronged central Sao Paulo for the city's annual gay pride parade Sunday as they pushed for legislation criminalizing homophobic behavior.


Sao Paulo gay pride parade calls for equal rights

Revellers take part in the annual Gay Pride Parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil on May 4, 2014 - by Nelson Almeida

The march, considered the world's largest gay parade, drew tens of thousands of people from across society, including some churchgoers who joined in after attending mass and who said they backed the cause.

President Dilma Rousseff, who is seeking another term in October elections, gave a message of support via Twitter.

"People from around the country are in Sao Paulo today to participate in #paradalgbt," Rousseff tweeted, reminding her followers there is a hotline people can call in Brazil if they are attacked because of their sexuality.

- Slow evolution -

As the marchers cavorted through the city, a former teacher who only gave her first name Cassia Maria and her husband stood out, smartly dressed for mass.

They were surrounded by mainly young, beer-swigging marchers dressed as anything from angels to devils and police officers.

"We attended mass in a church near here and then came to the march," said Cassia Maria, 53.

"I am Catholic -- apostolic and Roman. But I stick my fingers up against discrimination," she smiled as her husband viewed on his cellphone footage of examples of physical abuse meted out to gay people in Brazil.

Cassia said she felt the Church should accept all forms of love.

"Things are evolving -- but slowly. Things are changing," she insisted. 

- 'Enough deaths!' -

Main thoroughfares were closed to traffic for the 18th edition of the march, which began at midday in front of the Museum of Art on the main Paulista drag of Brazil's seething business hub.

Marchers at the event, first held in 1997, are urging the criminalization of homophobia in a country "without homo-lesbo-transphobia."

More than 300 homosexuals, tranvestites and transsexuals were killed in homophobic crimes last year, according to Grupo Gay de Bahia, an independent group.

Although the total was down 7.7 percent from 2012, the group said it still left Brazil atop the global league for homophobic homicides and urged government action.

The group estimated four in 10 such crimes worldwide occur in Brazil.

"Enough deaths. For the passing of a law for gender identities," read one banner.

Two women, Clediana and Paula, said they felt fortunate because lesbian partners generally suffer less abuse than men in same-sex partnerships. The women said a transvestite friend had been abused in the street. 

After six years together, they were last year able to have their union formalized after a Supreme Court ruling that public entities such as town halls cannot reject gay marriage applications.

Even so, Congress has yet to approve legislation to that effect amid opposition from Catholic and evangelical lawmakers in parliament.

Transsexual hairdresser Sabrina, 37, said she had suffered violent abuse but was comfortable with her decision to undergo gender reassignment.

She and friend Gabriele, a 25-year-old transsexual, were constantly asked to pose for pictures at the Rio carnival in February.

"I found that gratifying. It was a recognition of what we are doing," Sabrina said.

March participants sought to outdo themselves in racy garb -- one donning an outsized blonde wig topped off with football decor in a nod to the World Cup that will kick off in the city next month.

The parade was scheduled to finish in Republic Square around 0030 GMT.

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