|Jean-Eric Holzapfel, the head of the European Union delegation in Minsk, addresses the conference.|
The first Equality Festival to be staged in Belarus opened 14 May with a large conference at the Crowne Plaza – the third time since 2009 that the hotel has hosted an LGBT conference.
With no disruption, the organisers said the event, which was Webcast live by GayRussia, was “a success”.
“Last year, a group of skinheads attempted to disrupt a similar event we held on the eve of the first Slavic Gay Pride in Minsk,” Sergey Yenin, co-chair of IDAHO Belarus, one of the presenting organisation, told UK Gay News.
Around 100 participants, including foreign diplomats, attended the event.
Opening the conference, the head of the EU delegation in Minsk, Jean-Eric Holzapfel, underlined that support and protection for LGBT human rights defenders is a priority of the EU external action.
“The EU promotes human rights dialogue for tolerance and non discrimination vis a vis lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons," he said.Mr Holzapfel also congratulated the organizers “I commend and admire your courage and wish you the best success for today’s conference – and all your endeavours.”
Dr Zoltan Bacs from the Hungarian Embassy addressed the audience later and reminded Belarusians that his country will always support those “who are standing for who they are”.
Sergey Praded emphasised the lack of freedom of assembly in Belaru,s explaining the 100 refusals his group, IDAHO Belarus, received from the city hall for the Equality March it intends to host 17 May, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
And he revealed this his group would be marching on 17 May, despite the ban. He added that the location for the event would not be revealed for security reasons.
The Lesbian group, Labrys Belarus, later debated the issue of same sex families and propaganda of homophobia.
East Bloc Love, the documentary feature film due to have its World Premier at the Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco next month, was given a private preview by its director Logan Mucha.
In his remarks, Mr. Mucha recalled his experiences of filming in Belarus last year.
The Equality Festival continued with the Belarusian staging of the exhibition Images Against Homophobia by Chad Meacham. This exhibition is taking place in over 20 cities across the world on the occasion of the 7th International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Last week, the exhibition stopped-off at the European Parliament in Strasbourg
“It's a privilege to be back a year later in Minsk to present my images to all those with whom I worked with last year for the Slavic Pride,” said Mr. Meacham who photographed 15 Pride Marches in the course of last year.
Closing the Conference, Nikolai Alekseev, chief organiser of Moscow Pride, reminded those present of the importance of the campaign for freedom of assembly and raising awareness in the society.
“In Russia, a third of all Russians heard about the Pride campaign and this is helping us to raise awareness in the media,” he said. “Pride is a powerful tool which helps us to exist and be heard by the society through the media.
“There is no way in changing the society if you can’t be heard,” he pointed out.