ROME (AP) — Thousands of people, riding on floats or walking through Rome's streets, joined in an annual European gay pride parade before a performance by Lady Gaga, expected to sing her hit "Born This Way" at the end of their march Saturday night.
The Europride parade, held every year in a different European city, was noisily and peacefully making its way through the historic center of Rome toward Circus Maximus, the now grassy field where ancient Romans would gather for entertainment.
Organizers hoped the event will draw attention to discrimination gays face in many parts of the world. The U.S. ambassador was among those who invited Lady Gaga to Rome. She agreed to perform one song, sparking anticipation she would sing "Born This Way" to encourage gay pride.
Organizers said Rome was a significant choice of venue, since it is home to the Vatican, which staunchly opposes legislation that would recognize same-sex marriage or adoption by gay couples.
Others hoped the turnout would send a message to Premier Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian leader dogged by a sex scandal involving an alleged 17-year-old Moroccan prostitute. The billionaire media mogul triggered outrage from gay rights groups last fall when he contended during a public appearance that it was "better to be passionate about a beautiful girl than a gay."
Berlusconi's equal opportunity minister, a woman, defended the premier, saying he had just been joking and had no intention of offending gays. A government undersecretary further provoked protests when she said she was sure "all Italian parents hope to have heterosexual children."
The premier, who is on trial in Milan for allegedly paying the teenager for sex and then using his office to try to cover it up, has denied any wrongdoing.