By Hugo Greenhalgh and Enrique Anarte
LONDON/BERLIN, May 17 (Openly) - Pride marches around Europe are swapping mass parties for much smaller gatherings focused on fighting LGBT+ inequality, with one of the world's biggest parades announcing on Monday scaled back plans for this year's event due to COVID-19.
WorldPride, which is usually held in a different city every two years and drew about 5 million people when last held in New York in 2019, said it was scrapping the main parade at August's Copenhagen 2021 in favour of activist-led "Protest Walks".
Organisers' initial hopes of attracting up to a million people have been dashed by continued curbs on international travel and restrictions on mass gatherings due to the pandemic, which has disproportionately affected the LGBT+ community.
"For WorldPride in Copenhagen, whilst we could pivot to being more of a demonstration, the impact would still be thousands of people gathering on the streets," said Steve Taylor, director of communications and marketing at Copenhagen 2021.
"So our decision is to replace the parade with a series of smaller protest walks, taking place several times over the week along different routes in the city."
Prides, film festivals and other LGBT+ events were cancelled last year as the coronavirus spread around the world, and Pride organisers have been eyeing a return to the streets as vaccine programmes advance briskly in countries such as Britain.
But due to the persistent curbs, as well as concerns about a possible third wave of infections, many are rethinking their plans.
On Friday, Madrid Pride, Spain's biggest LGBT+ event that regularly attracts up to 2 million people, scrapped floats for this year's celebrations, instead planning a series of politically focused events between June 25 and July 4.
"We still don't know what the social distancing restrictions will be in July, but we'll go out to the streets," said Carmen Garcia de Merlo, president of LGBT+ rights group COGAM, one of the organisations overseeing the event.
"We don't want to lose another year," Garcia de Merlo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that any street events would adhere to health measures.
In Germany, too, CSD - or Christopher Street Day - Berlin, which drew 800,000 people in 2019, will be more focused on LGBT+ campaigning than on partying.
"We're going political because there are many reasons to protest here in Germany, such as the blood donation ban still in place or equal parenting rights for rainbow families," said Ulli Pridat, a board member of CSD Berlin.
Calls are growing for the organisers of Britain's Pride in London to bring the event back to its roots as an LGBT+ rights march.
Last year, the country's largest official Pride march was cancelled, but members of the Gay Liberation Front held an alternative march through the centre of London to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the LGBT+ rights group.
This year, Pride in London is due to be held on Sept. 11, but veteran human rights activist Peter Tatchell is calling for "a grassroots 'Reclaim Pride' march" to take place in late June.
"If we organise it as an LGBT+ rights march, it won't cost a penny," Tatchell said in a statement, disputing the notion that it would be "hugely expensive" to hold an alternative Pride.
"There would be no floats, no stage and no speakers at the end. Totally open, egalitarian and grassroots," he said.
(Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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