SAO PAULO, Brazil – Hundreds of thousands of gay men, lesbians and transvestites waving rainbow flags and dressed in lavish Carnival costumes paraded in Brazil's biggest city Saturday to celebrate gay pride and demand an end to homophobia.
The 10th annual Sao Paulo Gay Pride Parade 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 said Sao Paulo's pride parade is the largest of its kind on the planet and that they hoped to attract more than 2 million people. Police did not immediately release crowd estimates.
Go-go boys and drag queens danced on the roofs of trucks rolling down the skyscraper-lined Avenida Paulista — Sao Paulo's financial heart.
Organizers picked this year's theme — a call to halt hate crimes against gays.
Despite a certain measure of tolerance for gays, whose drag parades are major draws during carnival celebrations, anti-homosexual discrimination is widespread across this nation of more than 185 million, 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," said the 22-year-old salesman.
"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 about 3 million evangelical Protestants staged a huge rally on the same Sao Paulo avenue, demonstrating their growing influence in the world's largest Roman Catholic country.
The evangelicals along with 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."