SAO PAULO, Brazil – More than 2 million gay men, lesbians and transvestites waving rainbow flags and dressed in lavish Carnival costumes paraded Saturday to celebrate gay pride and demand an end to homophobia.
The 10th annual Sao Paulo Gay Pride Parade saw go-go boys and drag queens dancing on the roofs of sound trucks blasting dance music as they rolled down the skyscraper-lined Avenida Paulista — the financial heart of Brazil's biggest city.
It also turned into a cheering festival for Brazil's World Cup soccer team, with many paraders dressed in the country's yellow, green and blue.
Organizers boast Sao Paulo's pride parade is the largest of its kind on the planet. Police said the parade drew 2.4 million, far more than last year's official crowd count of 1.8 million.
The theme of this year's event was to halt hate crimes against gays in the nation of more than 185 million. But in typical Brazilian style, participants turned a somber topic into a huge street party, dancing, drinking beer and kissing each other as they marched several miles.
Some dressed up as Batman. Others turned themselves into Elvis Presley, Cinderella, American marines, Marie Antoinette and even the lead characters of the Oscar-winning movie "Brokeback Mountain" about two gay cowboys.
Despite a certain measure of tolerance for gays, whose drag parades are major draws during Carnival celebrations, anti-homosexual discrimination is widespread across Brazil, said Nelson Matias Pereira, a spokesman with the Brazilian Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans-gender Pride Parade Association.
"The bottom line is we are citizens, citizens who pay taxes and contribute to the country," Pereira said.
Waving a Brazilian flag, Ulysses Nascimento danced along the street in a skintight yellow and green T-shirt and a snug black bathing suit.
"This is to show that everyone's equal in this world, gays and lesbians as well," the 22-year-old salesman said.
"I just want to show that we're harmless," said Cao Ramos, a towering 36-year-old architect in a shimmery gold evening gown and high heels. "There are so many other things in the world that we should be worrying about instead of people's sexual preferences."
The march came two days after police said about 3 million people joined an evangelical Protestant rally on the same Sao Paulo avenue, demonstrating their growing influence in the world's largest Roman Catholic country.
The evangelicals and the Catholic church strongly oppose calls for a nationwide law permitting civil unions between same-sex couples. Currently only Brazil's southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul allows such unions.
Paraders said they want organized religion to stop regarding gays as sinners.
"The traditional church doesn't want us," said Pastor Justino Luis, 42, who started a church serving 200 mostly gay and lesbian parishioners.
Waving a banner with the words, "I'm Happy, Gay and Christian," Luis said, "I know [God] loves me the way I am, and I know when he made me he planned for me to be the way I am."