HERE'S my plea to the people of Bournemouth - take pride in Bourne Free this weekend.

The event will see thousands of people - gay and straight - flock on to the streets of Bournemouth in a joyous celebration of love.

The day will be marked by colour, glitz and glamour.

It will be a wonderful advertisement for the tolerant nature of the people of the United Kingdom and will show how far lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights have come.

Now for me that is reason enough to instil a sense of pride. I should know - I've seen the other side. I am from Latvia.

In June I quit my country to move to the UK. My reasons for leaving were not economic - I was operating a thriving psychotherapy business. Nor did I leave for family reasons - I am very close to my two children, Krisjanis, 19, and Elizabeth, 16, and my ex-wife is my best friend.

It was homophobia. I am gay, and over the past few years, I have been physically and verbally assaulted many times.

The difference between Latvia and the UK could not be more marked. It has taken decades for the Pride event in the UK to reach this point.

When Pride first began in London, it was only a few brave souls that took part. They faced torrents of abuse and physical assault. But those few stood up for the human rights of thousands of others.

Their determination led to the overturning of bad laws - such as the infamous Section 28, which banned local councils from distributing any information about homosexuality - and the ingraining of anti-discriminatory policies throughout British society.

It has been a long battle and, sadly, one that has only just begun in dozens of other countries in continental Europe - my own included.

Before I came out in 2002, the rumours about my sexuality had already had huge ramifications on my life. I was a pastor in the Latvian church. I had a column in the church newspaper, and that was stopped.

My weekly radio sermon was taken off the air, and I was kicked out of the cathedral I served in. In May 2002, I was excommunicated from the church. Back then, there were only three openly gay people in the whole of Latvia.

My story was on the front pages of all the Latvian newspapers and I have suffered dozens of personal attacks since then.

I have been verbally abused, spat at and physically attacked.

Last year, two guys ambushed me as I went to baptise a child.

Since then my sight began to deteriorate, which my doctor blamed on stress caused by the attacks.

I wish my story were unique. But sadly I know it not to be.

Homophobia remains rife, and is even being institutionalised.

In 2006, the Latvian parliament voted against an anti-discrimination law that would have brought the country into line with its European partners on gay rights. And they have just elected an anti-gay activist as chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee.

Despite that, there is hope in Latvia. Amnesty International has been a huge support to the gay community there. They now have a huge presence at Riga Pride, and have helped encourage dozens of individuals to feel comfortable with their sexuality.

Amnesty chooses to work with Latvia, but it could have been dozens of other countries in Europe. For Amnesty the battle against homophobia goes on.

So while Bourne Free will be a magnificent carnival, spare a thought for those thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people across the world for whom the party is still a distant dream.

But, for me personally, I have suffered enough.