Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, held its first LGBT pride parade on Sunday without incident but amid heavy security to prevent violence from extremist groups.
Opponents of the event held a counter-rally nearby.
Using sniffer dogs and metal barriers, more than 1,000 police deployed along the route where hundreds of participants marched, singing and waving rainbow flags.
The colourful crowd held a huge pink banner with the logo “Ima Izac!” which roughly translates as “Coming out”.
Cheerful participants blew whistles as they marched on a sunny day to the rhythm of drums while many people waved back from balconies and windows.
One of the organisers, Lejla Huremagic, told the gathering that Pride’s message is one of solidarity and support for a society without the violence and discrimination that she said Bosnia’s LGBT people are facing.
“If there was no violence I wouldn’t be here today,” she said in a speech. “This gives us strength and faith that prejudice against us will start to wane and that it will become better for all of us.”
She added defiantly: “We are here, we exist … we have the courage to fight for our lives.”
About a mile away, dozens of followers of a conservative Islamic group earlier held a rally against the parade.
They described the Pride march as a “sin” and “humiliation” for Sarajevo, symbolically holding a prayer at the end of the protest.
“They want to bring this into our streets, our squares – among our children,” said Sanin Musa, Islamic theologian and chairman of the “Iskorak” group behind the event.
“We want to fight against this, we are fighting against their LGBT way of life, which is being introduced into our schools, our homes, our universities.”
Extremists and hooligans in the past have attacked two LGBT events in Sarajevo, which is predominantly a Muslim city, fuelling fears of violence ahead of Sunday’s event.
Bosnia remains deeply conservative, and Sarajevo is the last capital in the Balkans to hold a Pride event.
US and other Western ambassadors joined Sunday’s march, along with local officials and activists from the region.
The event was widely seen as a test for Bosnia, which is seeking to move away from its wartime past toward membership of the European Union.
“Everyone who faces discrimination must support all the others in the same position,” said 45-year-old Lejla Mijovic, an economist from Sarajevo. “We are all discriminated against in one way or another. That is why I walk today.”
Members of Bosnia’s embattled LGBT community have complained that they face widespread harassment and attacks which are rarely prosecuted.