The largest Gay Pride parade in the world may someday have a rival.

In Brazil’s capital Sao Paulo, the annual Gay Pride parade has grown from 3,000 to 3 million in 15 years and is now a major tourist attraction. In traditionally conservative Latin America, Brazil has developed a reputation for tolerance on social issues. Yet in recent years there has been criticism of what some claim are special privileges for Brazil’s gay community. 

Sao Paulo City Council member Carlos Apolinario recently proposed a Heterosexual Pride parade, which the council approved by a vote, only to have the mayor veto it. Apolinario says in current Brazil politics it has become impossible to criticize the gay rights movement.

“Gays have become untouchable in Brazil. No one can say a word against any gay person, no matter what excessive behavior,” Apolinario said.

After a proposed religious march, to be held on the same central avenue where the Gay Pride parade is held was rejected, Apolinario began to lobby for a Heterosexual Pride parade to be held one week before Christmas.

The proposal was immediately attacked by more than 200 civil groups, who said a Heterosexual Pride parade would encourage homophobia and violence against gays.

“If you start with laws like that tolerance will break apart,” says Sao Paulo Club owner Sidnei Comenda. “Who will come out to support Hetero Pride? Skinheads, the extreme right. So it’s dangerous because we could lose a lot of the privileges that we have managed to get in the past 15 years in Brazil.” 

The battle over the two parades may reflect a larger divide in a nation that is rapidly developing.

“Brazil is a very cosmopolitan country,” says Professor Bruce Bagley of the University of Miami. “It is increasingly engaged with the world and rising to international status and seeking to consolidate that. But they have feet of clay. They are mired in a traditional and rural backwardness, particularly in the most underdeveloped areas of the country with the high levels of poverty and extremely traditional values. And violence is never far away.”

Bagley says the struggle in Brazil mirrors some of the political debate in the US.

“It is an effort, I think, by relatively conservative political elements to reaffirm, very much as in the United States," Bagley said. "We've seen the reaffirmation of family values and marriage between a man and a woman as the only form of marriage, to reaffirm the more traditional values of Brazilian society,  rooted in its history and its Catholic traditions.”

The mayor of Sao Paulo has vetoed the proposed Heterosexual Pride march proposed for this December, but backers say they will try again in 2012.

Steve Harrigan is a reporter for Fox News Channel based in Miami.

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