Ana Brnabic, Serbia’s first openly gay prime minister, joined several hundred activists at a gay-pride march in Belgrade on Sunday.
Brnabic, who is also the first woman in top-level job, said she is working “one step at a time” toward building a more tolerant society.
Serbian riot police cordoned off the city center with metal fences early Sunday to prevent possible clashes with extremist groups opposed to the gathering. Similar events have been marred by violent clashes in the conservative country.
“The government is here for all citizens and will secure the respect of rights for all citizens,” Brnabic told reporters. “We want to send a signal that diversity makes our society stronger, that together we can do more.”
Members of Serbia’s embattled LGBT community face widespread harassment and violence from extremists. Violence marred the country’s first gay pride march in 2001, and more than 100 people were injured during a similar event in 2010 when police clashed with right-wing groups and soccer hooligans. Several pride events were banned before marches resumed in 2014.
Brnabic, who was elected in June, has tried to shift the focus away from her sexual orientation, asking “Why does it matter?”
Serbia is on track to join the European Union, but the EU has asked the country to improve minority rights, including for the LGBT community.
The marchers Sunday said they hoped Brnabic will bring about legislative changes for same-sex couples.