Hundreds call for greater tolerance in Athens gay pride parade

About 500 people marched through Athens on Saturday to demand greater tolerance toward gays, lesbians and transsexuals, in the country's second large-scale gay pride parade.

Participants formed a sea of rainbow flags a popular gay symbol as they marched through the center of the city. Marchers blew whistles, beat drums, and carried banners reading "Out, loud and proud."

"It's the support we feel we should give to our own lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community to come out, be proud of who they are and live a life of transparency, not shame," said Andrea Gilbert, a member of the Athens Pride Committee. "It's not a bone to pick with society."

Athens a bustling metropolis of 4 million has several gay bars, and summer island resorts such as Mykonos draw thousands of gay tourists annually.

But gays and lesbians in this European Union nation of 11 million people complain of discrimination by employers. Public displays of affection by same-sex couples are widely frowned upon.

Homosexuality has also been denounced as a sin by the country's powerful Orthodox Church.

In 2003, Greece's Mega television was fined Ђ100,000 (US$116,000) by the National Radio and Television Council for a scene of two men kissing in an episode of the weekly drama "Close your Eyes."

Debate heated up a year later over Oliver Stone's Hollywood epic based on the life of ancient Macedonian warrior king Alexander the Great, whose bisexuality was depicted through a close bond with his childhood friend, Hephaestion.

The portrayal of Alexander idolized in Greece as a symbol of its ancient glory hit a raw nerve and a group of lawyers threatened to sue the movie's producers.

Parade attendees insisted that public demonstrations are important in maintaining gays' representation and promoting equal rights.

"Everybody says Greece isn't ready," said gay activist Leo Kalovyrnas, who held a large silk rainbow flag. "But things don't happen on their own people make them happen."

Athens City Council member Yvette Jarvis also backed the cause, insisting that "gay people cannot be outcasts and forced into a life of hiding and fear."

At stands in central Klathmonos Square, activists handed out pamphlets calling for the recognition of civil marriage for same-sex couples, legal recognition of gender and sexual orientation and nondiscriminatory sex education at all school levels in Greece, reports AP.

O.Ch.