Scores of people gathered in central Madrid on Wednesday to decry violence against the LGBTQ community in Spain. The rally was organized in response to reports of a homophobic attack, which later turned out to be false.
The protesters at the iconic Puerta del Sol square carried rainbow flags and signs with the word “justice” on them. One of the larger banners read: “Homophobia and fascism is the same thing.” According to local media, up to 2,000 people took part in the protest, at which demonstrators chanted slogans and behaved peacefully.
Tensions spiked only briefly when Bertrand Ndongo of the right-wing Vox party appeared in the square together with several counter-protesters. There was a short shoving match before Ndongo was escorted away by the police.
At the weekend, news headlines in Spain were dominated by the story of a brazen homophobic attack on a young man that allegedly happened in broad daylight in Madrid’s posh Malasana neighborhood.
The 20-year-old victim, whose name was not disclosed, told police that eight masked men had followed him into the building where he lived and threatened him with a knife. The assailants hurled insults, including “sh**eater” and “disgusting,” at him, while also carving a homophobic slur on his backside with a weapon, the man insisted.
Police said that it was the first attack of this kind they’d ever encountered, while LGBTQ rights activists described it “shocking” and “terrible.” The news prompted the Spanish prime minister to call an urgent meeting of the anti-hate crimes commission. The PM also took to Twitter, insisting that there was “no place for hatred in our society” and promising to keep working hard to turn Spain into a country where “no one is afraid to be who they are, where we all live free and safely.”
But the police officers who investigated the incident and looked through CCTV footage from the alleged crime scene started questioning the man’s testimony. On Wednesday, he withdrew his claim, saying that the injuries he received were “consensual” and inflicted during a sexual act with another person. The man may now himself face legal action for lying to the police.
However, the organizers of the protest in Madrid decided not to cancel the event, saying that one false attack couldn’t negate the real hate crimes against the LGBTQ community that keep happening in the country.
They referred to the killing of Samuel Luiz, a gay man, who was beaten to death outside a nightclub in the city of A Coruna in July, and fresh allegations of homophobic aggression in various regions of the country.
The activists were backed by Spanish Equality Minister Irene Montero, who tweeted: “Hate crimes against the LGBTI collective rose 43% during the first half of 2021. Let’s not lose sight of the forest because of one tree.”
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