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Friday, 7 June, 2002, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Gays march through Jerusalem
A participant in Jerusalem's gay pride march
Organisers said it was a protest against hatred
Thousands of Israeli gays and lesbians have marched through Jerusalem for the holy city's first gay pride parade.

There was heavy police protection and fierce opposition from ultra-Orthodox Jews and other right-wingers to the march, which took place a few hours before the start of the Jewish Sabbath.

A Jewish man collects charity during the gay pride march
Ultra-Orthodox Jews condemn homosexuality as a disgrace
Orthodox Jewish groups had put up posters condemning the march as blasphemy, saying it would drive holiness out of the city.

Organisers of the parade, which included the Jerusalem Open House, said it was a march against hatred in a city where religious opposition to homosexuality dominates.

One organiser told the crowd: "We did not believe the day would come when this could happen in Jerusalem.

"It wasn't simple, but there are people here for whom this is their first day out of the closet to get out of the dark and into the light."

Estimates of the number of participants ranged from 2,000 to 4,000.

Many were brightly dressed and carrying the rainbow flag of the gay movement in the afternoon sunshine.

Victims remembered

The parade kicked off in central Jerusalem and made its way to Independence Park, where a concert was organised featuring a line-up of prominent gay Israeli singers and entertainers.

But the march also addressed the continuing violence between Israelis and Palestinians and black balloons were released to commemorate the victims of the uprising.


We won't let this become Sodom

Anti-protest poster
Among the posters, one called for "Free condoms, free Palestine".

Police had prepared for possible disruptions by Palestinian militants and other Israelis who opposed the march.

But only around 50 protesters were seen on the side of the one-kilometre (half-mile) route, holding signs reading: "We won't let this become Sodom," a reference to the Biblical city known for its depravations.

'Perversion'

Before the march, Jerusalem's Deputy Mayor Rabbi Haim Miller, denounced the participants.

"I think they have a problem, they have a perversion, it is a disgrace," he said.

"Before, you would be ashamed of this. A person who had this problem used to hide in the street. Today they want to go out into the city streets and call it 'pride'."

Homosexuality is not considered a crime in Israel, and a number of courts have even recognised the rights of gay couples.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Barbara Plett
"The gay community is coming out of the closet"
See also:

24 Jun 01 | Americas
09 Jul 00 | Europe
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