Pride march after difficult year for gay community

Marchers at the Gay Pride event on Saturday
Image caption About 500 people attended the event

The East London Gay Pride march took place on Saturday - after a difficult year for the homosexual community in the area.

The event had been due to take place in April but was cancelled after it was alleged one of the organisers, Raymond Berry, had links to the English Defence League.

It has been reported he no longer has links to the far-right group, and Mr Berry and the original organising committee resigned.

And earlier this year Mohammed Hasnath, 18, from Tower Hamlets, east London, was fined for putting up anti-gay flyers in the area.

The flyers had read "Gay free zone".

The organisers said the march was about being visible and building community relations.

Jack Gilbert, of the group Rainbow Hamlets which organised the march, said: "We don't have to prove anything. We're here. We exist."

In the end the march, which was attended by about 500 people, passed off without incident.

One of those among the crowd was Peter Tatchell, the prominent gay rights activist.

Asked about the anti-gay sticker campaign, he said: "I'm not sure the guy who did the stickers should have been prosecuted.

"I take a very strong free speech line."

While Mr Tatchell said the principle of the march was good, he believed that it should have gone into the area where the stickers had been placed and said that "mainstream Muslims" should have been involved.

Image caption Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman spoke at the event

Religious groups, including the Muslim Council of Britain and the East London Mosque, had condemned the anti-gay stickers, which appeared to make reference to the Koran.

Another march organiser, Ali Press, said: "We've been in close contact with the East London Mosque throughout the planning process."

The anti-gay sticker campaign and a recent rise in anti-gay crime seemed to have been the main factors for people attending the march.

The latest Metropolitan Police figures show there has been a 17.4% rise in homophobic crime in the borough of Tower Hamlets in the 12 months to August 2011, compared with the previous year. At the same time there has been a 13.9% fall in homophobic crime across London.

Andy, 27, from Tower Hamlets, with his friend, Jamie, 25, said recent homophobic attacks had occurred just yards from where they live.

"We're both gay and in our 20s and we think it's really important for our community to stand together after what has gone on in the last two or three years," said Andy.

At the end of the march there was an evening show at Oxford House where the Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman said: "I grew up here, and have seen how things have changed in the last 20 years.

"I want you to be in no doubt I will fight to ensure there is respect for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender culture and rights in the same way I will for all communities."

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