October 12, 2011 / 2:07 AM / 7 years ago

Gay rights march in Suriname protests homophobia

PARAMARIBO, Suriname (Reuters) - Suriname’s first gay rights march in the capital on Tuesday drew a small peaceful crowd to protest in part a legislator’s insistence that homosexuality “should be completely eradicated.”

Approximately 120 people marched for 15 minutes from Independence Square to a restaurant in this tiny Latin American nation’s capital wearing pink shirts and waving rainbow flags.

Gay, bisexual and transgender groups organized the “National Coming Out Day” aimed at outlawing discrimination.

“This is an eye opener for both the government and the people who have not yet come out,” said Marciano Zaalman, 29, a member of one of the organizing groups.

The march was organized after legislator Ronny Asabina launched a tirade against homosexuality in July, describing it as a “disease and a mental disorder.”

The march ended with speeches, followed by dancing to music blaring from a party bus supplied by the sizable Brazilian community. Men in drag mixed with families and children who participated in the event.

Suriname, with a population of about 500,000, is a former Dutch colony sandwiched between French Guyana and Guyana, with Brazil to the South. It won its independence from the Netherlands in 1975.

“Generally speaking, people are not willing to talk about sexuality, let alone homosexuality,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch’s gay rights program.

President Desire Bouterse did not participate in the march, which wound its way past his office.

Harish Monorath, was one of two members of parliament to take part. “The taboo still exists,” he said. “Too many members of parliament are still having a retarded attitude toward homosexuality.”

Dutch politicians have waded into the debate by sending letters to ministers in Suriname asking for comment on Asabina’s tirade and whether his views were supported by the governing coalition.

Bouterse has refused to enter the debate. “I believe gay people are nice guys. Everyone has their own preference,” he told a news conference on Monday.

Additional reporting by Girish Gupta in Caracas. Writing by Daniel Bases; editing by Christopher Wilson

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