Leading article: Why we still need gay parades

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The Independent Online

As many as half a million people are expected on the streets of central London today for EuroPride 2006, making it the biggest gay parade the capital has seen. We anticipate a joyous and colourful spectacle - the sort of public celebration that would have been unthinkable even 15 years ago.

The festive nature of the occasion, however, should not lull anyone into the false belief that homosexual men and women already enjoy full equality, either in this country or in many other parts of Europe. Or that they are always safe on our streets. In some countries, the free speech and freedom of association that followed the defeat of communism have been accompanied by the open expression of homophobia.

In Britain, equal rights for homosexuals are now enshrined in our laws. The introduction of civil partnerships two years ago in effectcompleted the legal edifice of equal rights. This was landmark legislation, and it is to the credit of this Labour government that ministers were prepared to enact laws that righted a long-standing wrong.

Legislating on rights for lesbians and gay men was not going to be popular in every quarter. But this is one area in which the Government cannot be accused of playing to the gallery. We note that Ruth Kelly, who holds the position of Minister for Equality along with her local government portfolio, will not be attending today's parade. That is a pity and a missed opportunity for her to show that her membership of Opus Dei does not cloud her judgement on equal rights.

With homosexual rights, as with so much else, attitudes are harder to change than the law. The recent trial of two men who murdered a gay barman on Clapham Common in London served as a tragic reminder that homophobia is closer to the surface of our supposedly liberal society than we like to think. This especially brutal killing was one of more than 1,300 homophobic crimes reported in London last year - and the number has been growing. That the increase may reflect a greater willingness on the part of victims to report the crime, and its nature, is no excuse for complacency.

For all the safeguards now enshrined in our laws, a great many homosexuals still feel too insecure to "come out". There are still walks of life in which it is hard to be openly gay. That is why, even in 2006, EuroPride is needed.

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