THE statue of former President José“Pepe” Figueres, who abolished CostaRica’s army in 1949, wore a rainbow flagand watched over the festivities during thesecond annual Pride in Sexual DiversityFestival at the Plaza de la Democracia inSan José on Sunday.Gay and lesbian singles and couples,transvestites and their supporters, familiesand tourists joined in the fun listening topoetry, a live rock band, a DJ and the grandfinale of a drag queen lip-sync.The morning threatened rain and theafternoon delivered sporadically, promptingfestivalgoers to open and shut rainbowumbrellas and run under the tented informationkiosks lining the plaza.Maurino Torres, who works for UnitedNations Population Fund, worked one ofthe booths and handed out flyers, pamphletsand red ribbons to raise awarenessof HIV/AIDS.THE festival is a way to show CostaRica the extent of sexual diversity in thecountry, Torres said, and to help and supportthe gay community at the same time.Manfred Gutiérrez, who runs a gay orientedtourism company calledMaguines Travel Service, says it’s importantthat businesses and organizations supportthe gay community.“We get stronger each year,” he said.“It’s very important that Costa Rica realizehow big the gay community is. There havebeen statistical estimates that say gays, lesbiansand bisexuals form 20-25% of thepopulation.“It’s important for our neighbors, parentsand grandparents to realize that thereare a lot of us,” Gutiérrez continued.“We’re not the only ones and we’re notweird. We’re human beings, too.”A few years ago, holding this festivalwould have been difficult, organizers said,but the country is slowly becoming moreaccepting of homosexuals.In the early 1990s there were policeraids on gay nightclubs, and in 1998protests forced the cancellation of a gayand lesbian tourism festival (TT, June 25).Gutiérrez says just being able to hold thefestival is proof that things are improving.Francisco Madrigal, administrative directorof the Central American Center for theInvestigation and Promotion of HumanRights (CIPAC), said the festival is importantfor the gay community to see theirstrength in numbers and see they are beingsupported. He estimated as many as 6,000people visited the festival throughout theday.“PEOPLE can be proud to see thequality of the organizations that are supportingus. We have about 20 differentbusinesses and non-governmental organizationshere today. We’re proud. It’s aboutpride,” he said.After the rain let up and the sun beganto shine, the plaza filled up as attentionturned to the stage where two drag queenstook turns lip-synching disco hits. Theytried to outdo each other with wigs andfeather boas, and pretended to be exasperatedwith one another.One of the last numbers was an emotionalrendition of “This is My Life,”which brought tears to the eyes of someaudience members.AFTER the final performance,Madrigal took to the stage, thanked everyonefor their participation and urged peopleto sign a petition asking for theremoval of Ombudsman José ManuelEchandi from his post. CIPAC also namedEchandi “Homophobe of the Year.”In response, Echandi told The TicoTimes this week that they have every rightto express themselves.“Obviously I don’t agree with them. Ihave not discriminated against them,” headded.In a letter to CIPAC last month,Echandi declined the group’s request forhelp in obtaining the same rights for gaycouples as for straight couples, and suggestedthe group take the matter directly tothe Legislative Assembly (TT, June 25).Madrigal said Echandi refused to helpbecause of political reasons.President Abel Pacheco last monthaccused Echandi of waging a political campaignto become a congressional deputy.The charge came in response to theOmbudsman’s annual report, which accusedthe Pacheco administration of lackingtransparency and not providing informationto the public (TT, June 18).