Brazil's gays stage huge parade against bias

SAO PAULO Sun May 25, 2008 6:25pm EDT

1 of 7. Revelers parade during the annual Gay Parade in Sao Paulo May 25, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Paulo Whitaker

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SAO PAULO (Reuters) - More than a million gays and transsexuals paraded in Brazil's business capital Sao Paulo on Sunday in what was billed as the world's largest gay march to urge an end to violence and discrimination.

DJs blasted dance music from trucks that drove up and down the city's skyscraper-lined main avenue as people in the dense crowds danced and celebrated on a hot, sunny day, some wearing wigs, masks and carnival-style outfits.

"I don't suffer prejudice because I'm usually very discreet but today I'm living the moment. Here in the center of Sao Paulo, for today, everyone can do what they like," said Junior Antenor, 21, wearing a winged silver-and-white angel outfit.

According to witnesses, the event attracted at least 1 million participants. Police declined to give an official crowd count although one officer on the scene estimated more than 3 million people took part and the Sao Paulo Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgenders Parade Association said attendance was more than 5 million.

This is the 12th year the parade has been staged.

Sao Paulo authorities and Brazilian oil firm Petrobras backed the event, which has become a big money-earner for the city and for tourism in Latin America's biggest country.

"This is the diversity the country wants, the diversity that we have to foster as a country seeking a tourist niche among the gay community," Tourism Minister Marta Suplicy, a former Sao Paulo mayor, said aboard one of the trucks.

The parade association is also supporting plans by Sao Paulo's Commerce Federation, Fecomercio, to certify retailers and service providers who respect diversity of race, ethnic origin, physical difference and sexual orientation.

On a visit last year to Brazil, the world's most populous Catholic country, Pope Benedict attracted fewer than 1 million when he spoke out against homosexuality and called for

traditional family values to be reinforced.

Research consultants Insearch last year said gays in Brazil were above-average earners and spent more on leisure, but Fecomercio says 40 percent of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgenders suffer discrimination as consumers.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Beasley; Writing by Peter Murphy; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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