Serbia's Leader Attends Gay Pride March for First Time

Serbia's Leader Attends Gay Pride March for First Time

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic became the nation's first openly lesbian leader to participate in the conservative country's burgeoning annual gay pride parade on Sunday.

"Brnabic, an LGBT person, said that Serbia is a country that respects differences and that government is there to support all citizens".

"We want to send a
signal that diversity makes our society stronger, that together we can do

Carrying rainbow flags, balloons and a banner reading, "For change", pride participants walked through the capital, Belgrade.

Seven years ago, more than 100 people, mostly police, were injured when a group of anti-gay protesters attacked the rally in Belgrade.

Previous Pride Parades mostly took place in the shadow of protests of Christian believers, far right activists, and hooligan football fans who sometimes provoked violent clashes with the police causing unrest among the citizens.

They will march under the eye of 2,000 police officers - less than half the number deployed for last year's peaceful parade, said organiser Goran Miletic.

Gay activists in Serbia have hailed her appointment as
an important step in their struggle for gay rights, but say much more still needs to be done.

Serbia's gays have faced widespread harassment and violence from extremists. In 2009 the parade was scuppered just before the scheduled start time due to security concerns.

Brnabic attended the pride march a year ago when she was public administration minister in the previous government of now-President Aleksandar Vucic.

Almost a decade later in 2010, another parade was allowed to go ahead but again descended into violence between anti-gay protesters and police, prompting a three-year ban on the event. A former ultranationalist who now says he is a pro-EU reformer, Vucic has declined invitations to attend the pride parade.

The surprise move made global headlines and sceptics suspected an attempt at "pinkwashing", with Brnabic being used as a puppet by Vucic to improve Serbia's as it seeks European Union membership.