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  • Revellers participate in the Gay Pride parade along Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 23, 2019.

    Revellers participate in the Gay Pride parade along Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 23, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 23 June 2019

As many as three million people were expected to take part in the annual march through the heart of Brazil's economic capital, defying Jair Bolsonaro's anti-gay rhetoric. 

One of the world's largest LGBT Pride parade took center stage in Sao Paulo on Sunday with the carnivalesque festivities tinged with unease over Brazil's conservative political climate under President Jair Bolsonaro.

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As many as three million people were expected to take part in the annual march through the heart of Brazil's economic capital, traditionally an exuberant celebration of camp, color and fantasy. This year, many participants said they were turning out because they feel their liberties are increasingly under threat.

"I came to fight against homophobia and disrespect," said 31-year-old Monique Barber, who said she faced verbal attacks at the start of the march, "just imagine being attacked at the LGBT march itself. We have a homophobic politician and we are seeing things go backward," she added.

Bolsonaro, a far-right politician and former military officer, has a long history of homophobic, racist and chauvinist remarks. Since taking office January 1, he has doubled down on an anti-gay posture, calling a recent Supreme Court decision criminalizing homophobia "an error."

"I came because I feel empathy and because I believe in respect for others. You don't have to be homosexual for that," Marina Fernandes, 19, said as she was taking part in the march for the first time in support of LGBT rights, although she identifies as heterosexual.

Nineteen sound cars ran the length of the parade route, laden with music acts that included Spice Girl Mel C, as well as the Brazilian performers Karol Conka, Iza, and Luisa Sonza.​​​​​​​ This year's theme is "50 Years Since Stonewall," in tribute to the protests at a New York gay bar in 1969 that helped launch the modern LGBT rights movement.

Pedestrian crossing lights on Paulista Avenue, the main street of the city, were retouched for the event, instead of the traditional red and green, they flashed same-sex couples.

A medical station displayed enormous rainbow decorations, and some businesses joined in, draping storefronts with the movement's symbolic colors. "Prejudice has a cure, through education," read a sign displayed alongside the parade's lead sound truck.

"I define myself as powerful," said a smiling Jonathan Alves, 27, ducking discussion of his sexual preference.

Wearing black pants and bra, his lips daubed with pink lipstick, Alves said he had overcome his fears to take part in the march for the first time.

"You have to come because it helps you accept yourself. Some people hide their entire lives and it's important to accept yourself and even more so to show that we are no different," he said.

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