Hundreds of thousands of people waved rainbow flags and danced to music at the Madrid Pride March on Saturday as the event returned after two years of COVID-imposed restrictions.
Across Europe, in Romania, some 15,000 people took to the streets of Bucharest to demand equal rights for sexual and gender minorities, under strict police supervision.
Romania decriminalized homosexuality in 2001, but same-sex couples cannot marry or form civil unions.
Protesters in the Spanish capital gathered in the late afternoon behind a large banner bearing the slogan “visibility, pride and resilience”.
Some participants carried water pistols and sprayed each other to cool off from the scorching heat. Others went bare-chested and danced to Brazilian and techno music.
They were joined by several ministers from Spain’s leftist coalition government, including Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska.
“I missed this a lot. The atmosphere is great. You can tell that people really wanted to party after so long without a ‘normal’ Pride,” said Víctor Romero Fernández, a 38-year-old teacher.
City authorities said more than 600,000 people took part in the event, which public broadcaster TVE covered live for the first time.
Public official Miguel Ángel Alfonso, 44, was grateful to see crowded streets, but thought the event should put more emphasis on demanding rights.
“It’s become a big party, with floats turned into discos and multinationals… it’s big business,” he said.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Spain in 1978, three years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco. Since then, the country has legalized marriage and adoption for same-sex couples.
In Bucharest, activists are concerned about a bill, introduced by legislators from Romania’s Hungarian minority, to ban educational material that discusses homosexuality and gender transition in schools.
The Senate approved the bill this year, although it still has to be voted on in the lower house.
The proposal is similar to legislation that came into effect last year in neighboring Hungary.
Among the crowd, Catalin Enescu, 37, had arrived with his wife and two young daughters, both dressed in rainbow-colored dresses.
“This is the first time I have participated in a march like this, but it is important to be here because the rights of LGBTQ people are no longer respected,” he said.
Earlier in the day, some 200 people, several brandishing Orthodox Christian icons, responded to a call by the far-right Noua Dreapta party for a counter-protest.
“The fact that pride celebrations are getting bigger while right-wing groups are getting smaller is a positive sign,” said Tor-Hugne Olsen of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
“But it is challenging that we see many proposals in parliament that reduce LGBT rights and other sexual health issues.”
Oana Baluta, another protester and a professor at the University of Bucharest, said she feared what would happen if the bill became law in the EU country.
“If passed, this bill, which is contrary to European Union standards, would deal a serious blow to freedom of expression and the rights of LGBTQ people,” he said.
“It would set a dangerous precedent, because we would also run the risk of being barred from the right to speak about abortion and sex education,” he said.
Romania has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Europe. Abortions are legal, but access to them has become increasingly difficult.