Pride and Protest
Updated: May 31, 2018 at 7:37 pm
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What started out in New York City’s Greenwich Village on a warm summer night in June 1969 as a spontaneous eruption of righteous anger and protest has morphed through the ensuing decades into an annual celebration and commemoration for our global LGBTQ community. The Stonewall Rebellion was, no doubt, a protest — fueled by years of pent-up frustration, oppression and violence.
Today, that annual commemoration is known as Pride. Festivals, parades, parties, educational workshops, picnics. It takes on various forms depending on the locale. Big cities in the West host parades and parties. Smaller towns host picnics.
But don’t be confused — in many places, Pride still is a protest. And for many locations, protest comes with party, a unique combination of celebration and community empowerment and advocacy for rights yet to be won.
It’s not just far-flung cities in hostile nations around the globe that can face challenge when trying to organize a Pride event. Even here in the U.S., small towns in states like Mississippi have seen their permits revoked or denied. Just two decades ago, within living memory for most, conservative religious figures in Charlotte attempted to convince the city to deny a permit for a parade here, an effort taken up again by anti-LGBTQ protests in the mid-2000s.
Here are spotlights on some Pride events around the world where LGBTQ community members are forming their own celebrations, protests, parades and other events — including in some places that might surprise you and other locales where challenges are often more numerous than triumphs.
Pink Dot, Singapore
This year, Singapore’s unique LGBTQ advocacy event, Pink Dot, celebrates 10 years. It all began a decade ago as a simple way to bring together LGBTQ people and their supporters in large numbers, to show the not-so-friendly, even hostile, city-state of Singapore. It is here, in this Asian island nation where same-sex relationships remain illegal and adoption by LGBTQ couples is also illegal. The law contains no anti-discrimination measures to protect LGBTQ people.
Pink Dot isn’t like most other Pride parades or festivals. It happens in a park and, in its early years, was devoid of the kind of pomp and revelry seen in big city Pride festivals or parades around the world. Masses of people come into the park wearing pink shirts and pink torchlights. When night falls, the black park turns into a sea of pink.
The annual event has certainly had its share of challenges, too. In 2016, the government sought to limit participation in the event, prohibiting tourists and non-residents from participating. The event was almost cancelled, as even the government prohibited foreign organizations or companies from supporting or sponsoring the event. Organizers were forced to barricade the park and review all participants’ passports or identification cards before letting them into the event.
Celebrating a decade this year, with the event slated for July 21, Pink Dot is expanding, creating a two-week line-up of community events prior to the big park event. Events will include parties, workshops and other educational events.
The small town in Starkville, Miss., probably had little idea how much backlash they would face when denying a Pride march permit earlier this year. And, oh boy, did they face a backlash.
The small college town, home to Mississippi State University, eventually folded under intense national media pressure and a lawsuit threat and allowed two college students to proceed with their Pride march plans. The march was held on March 24 with thousands participating, including community members who traveled from across the nation to support the small-town event.
Close to 3,000 people filled Starkville streets for the simple march, making the Pride event the largest parade the college town had ever seen.
Instead of big floats and fantastically-decorated cars, the march contained families, baby strollers and simple marching contingents holding banners or flags.
In 2017, Lebanon became the first nation in the Arab world to host a Pride event. Like Singapore and a host of other nations around the globe, Lebanon has had a rocky relationship with LGBTQ equality in the modern age. The law in Lebanon technically still forbids same-sex relationships, though some recent court decisions have reduced the ways in which it can be used to target LGBTQ people.
Regardless, the nation’s social climate remains hostile to LGBTQ equality, making events like Pride both important and challenging.
A full week of events were planned for Pride in Beirut, the nation’s capital. But tremendous social pressure and the arrest of the event’s main organizer effectively shut down the event.
Organizer Hadi Damien was arrested after the kickoff to the event began in mid May, accused of encouraging debauchery and offending public decency.
Damien was released from police custody only after he signed a pledge to cancel the series of events that week.
What kind of events scared law enforcement and the government so much? A street party, poetry readings, a storytelling workshop, a legal panel, drag performances and a health workshop.
A government official later anonymously told The New York Times that complaints from religious organizations had resulted in the legal crackdown.
“Beirut Pride made a lot of people proud of Lebanon,” Damien told the New York newspaper. “And this cancellation made a lot of people sad and disappointed.”
Homosexuality remains illegal in nearly all Middle Eastern nations, with Israel an outlying exception. Simultaneously, however, some Arab and other Middle Eastern nations have begun to dramatically improve legal and medical protections for transgender people.
Pride in Ukraine
The very first LGBTQ Pride event in the Eastern European nation of Ukraine didn’t occur until 2013. When it was presented in the nation’s capital of Kiev, it was met with hundreds of protesters and more than 20 LGBTQ activists rallying in solidarity with the Kiev community in Moscow were arrested by Russian authorities.
Pride events in Ukraine have been few and far between, with many of them being banned. You’re more likely to see political rallies and protests, usually centered around each May’s International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
Last year, on May 17, LGBTQ activists holding an IDAHOTB rally in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, were violently attacked by a group of about 30 assailants. The activists were attacked and a rainbow flag was lit aflame. Luckily, four of the assailants were arrested and could be facing criminal charges.
The African nation of Uganda has been a hotbed of LGBTQ activism and, in backlash, anti-LGBTQ hostility. In recent years, anti-LGBTQ religious activists in the nation and those from the U.S. have used the LGBTQ community as scapegoats and, even, called for violence against the community. Controversy was at its highest a few years ago, when harsh new laws were proposed, with some LGBTQ people being subject to life imprisonment or capital punishment.
Activists have faced these horrendous challenges head on, attempting to organize community groups and events, including Pride. They’ve done so despite threats and actual incidents of violence. A leading LGBTQ Ugandan activist, David Kato, was murdered in 2011.
A legal crackdown on Ugandan Pride events occurred in 2015, and the nation hasn’t had a successful Pride event since. In 2016, organizer Frank Mugisha and his fellow colleagues were arrested and detained and the event cancelled. Similarly, the 2017 event was cancelled after a government minister threatened event attendees with arrest and violence.
Organizers are trying again this year, with hopes to host a “Pride Uganda” event in Kampala later this year.
Pride in India
“No two prides in India are the same, except all of them are organized as protest marches, given the archaic anti-sodomy laws from the British Raj [which] still stand [on] on the land.”
That’s how Indian activist Deepak Kashyap explained the culture and nature of Pride events in his native India in a write-up for InterPride, an international association of Pride organizers.
India is the world’s largest democracy, but its laws on homosexuality have been slow to keep pace with other democracies around the world, like many other former colonies of the British empire.
Despite its massive size, India hosted only 18 Pride events in 2017, the largest of which attracting 12,000 people in Mumbai and the smallest only 80 people in Goa.
Even for an international city like Mumbai, organizers faced tremendous difficulty in planning the event. Organizers received final permission from law enforcement to host the event just two days prior to the march.
“It is a long and tedious process,” Kashyap wrote of the permitting process, “with all imaginable degrading questions and queries waiting to greet you in most offices, year after year.”
That long process includes getting permits and permissions from a variety of offices, including city officials, each police station in areas where the march would pass through and even traffic officials.
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About the author: Matt Comer is a staff writer for QNotes. He previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015.