Out in the World: Report finds global LGBTQ activists observe Pride in the face of growing attacks

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Thursday July 6, 2023
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People shout slogans during a march in support of transgender people and their rights as part of the LGBTQ Pride week in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 18. Photo: AP/Emrah Gurel
People shout slogans during a march in support of transgender people and their rights as part of the LGBTQ Pride week in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 18. Photo: AP/Emrah Gurel

While Pride Month in much of the U.S. results in jovial LGBTQ street celebrations throughout June, in many parts of the world Pride remains a protest - at times a dangerous demonstration where LGBTQ people demanding to live openly and freely are attacked and arrested.

"Pride is always a protest. It's always about how we're pushing things forward because, actually, no matter where you look in the world, our rights can never be taken for granted," Outright International Executive Director Maria Sjödin told attendees at a virtual discussion about the state of Pride June 21.

The panel discussion was ahead of Outright's release of its "We Remain Resilient: Pride Around the World 2022" report published June 23. This is the third year the organization has issued a Pride report.

Pride weekend - held in cities such as San Francisco and New York the last weekend in June - commemorates the 1969 Stonewall riots when LGBTQ people fought back against a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City's Greenwich Village, for six days. The riots are generally considered the birth of the modern LGBTQ rights movement.

"We are very aware that with the rise of the anti-gender movement and laws being proposed in various countries that would strengthen or make more harsh criminalization of LGBTQ people and identities, that it is not becoming easier in many parts of the world and, in some parts, it's becoming harder for LGBTQ people to hold pride events," Neela Ghoshal, senior director of law, policy, and research at Outright, said during the discussion.

"There is a refrain from politicians and sometimes from the general public that LGBTQ people don't exist," she continued. "Pride is a way for people to go out into the streets and show that they do exist and that they're proud of who they are."

In the face of rising hate against the LGBTQ community, and anti-gay and anti-transgender legislation globally, this year Outright researchers and writers - Ghoshal; Amie Bishop, senior research advisor consultant; and Ohotuowo Ogbeche, global researcher - asked: "What Pride means for our movements around the world?"

Bishop is also the organization's director of humanitarian and global development programs, the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.

"The report showcases the very many different ways that we celebrate Pride," said Sjödin, who is Outright's first nonbinary leader.

In the 55-page report, LGBTQ people around the world said Pride meant visibility, community, alliances, and resistance.

Outright's report included 105 of the 194 nations recognized by the United Nations that hosted Pride events last year, with celebrations in 63 of those countries happening in cities beyond capital cities. Among those countries, 65 criminalize consensual same-sex relationships and 13 criminalize transgender people, reported Outright. Outright works in many countries where Pride events were hosted in 2022.

The report documents police attacks on Pride events as well as celebrates Pride parades and festivals around the world, Ghoshal said.

"We look at Pride as a form of movement building. We look at Pride as a form of articulating political demands. We look at Pride as a form of visibility," Ghoshal said in the video.

"Part of our Pride report is very celebratory," she continued. "It is beautiful to hear the stories of activists in countries like Namibia, Jamaica, and Sri Lanka where, despite the criminalization of same-sex conduct, people are going out into the streets and celebrating Pride."

Sjödin explained 2023 marks the first year Outright launched an interactive website for the report. The report includes case studies from the Bahamas, Georgia, Hungary, Lithuania, Ghana, Malawi, and Rwanda. The report also placed a special focus on intersex and transgender people and lesbian, bisexual, and queer women who have historically been decentered in Pride events, according to Outright's June 23 news release.

Sjödin opened the discussion before handing it off to Ogbeche in Nigeria, who moderated the conversation with Nadine Smith, Noelle Campbell, Umut Rojda Yıldırım, and Hiker Chiu.

Smith co-founded and is the executive director of Equality Florida based in the United States. Campbell is the health and wellness program manager at Equality for All Foundation Jamaica (J-FLAG) in Jamaica. Yıldırım, a lawyer, is the capacity development expert at the Rainbow Association Against Discrimination, and he was recently the access justice coordinator at Social Policy, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation Studies Association (SPoD) in Turkey. Chiu is a veteran intersex activist and executive director of Intersex Asia in Taiwan.

Worst offender

Ghoshal noted one of the worst offenders oppressing Pride in 2022 was Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan narrowly won reelection in a runoff at the end of May, successfully retaining his two-decade grip and increasingly hardline rule in the country. The New York Times reported Erdoǧan's continued reign triggered real fears among LGBTQ Turks, despite the legal recognition of same-sex relationships, according to Outright. Turkey's president has launched a decades-long assault against the transcontinental country's LGBTQ community, which he ramped up during the elections. He indicated during his acceptance speech that his targeting of LGBTQ people and crackdowns on the community by authorities isn't going to let up anytime soon.

This year, Turkish police exercised their show of force against Istanbul's Trans Pride parade, where more than 10 marchers were arrested June 18. They were released less than 24 hours later, according to Balkan Insight. Voice of America reported Turkish police arrested 113 Pride marchers in Istanbul June 25. More arrests were made in the capital city of Ankara and Izmir.

Last year, Turkey made headlines for what turned out to be the worst year on record as police arrested hundreds of pride marchers throughout the country, documented by Outright and Human Rights Watch.

About 530 people in total were detained last year at marches in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir, with a majority arrested in Istanbul, Yıldırım estimated. Last year also saw Turkey host its first-ever anti-LGBTQ meeting, The Big Family Gathering, he added. Al Monitor reported that members of 150 conservative organizations attended the gathering demanding stronger anti-LGBTQ laws.

Turkey is an important partner of the European Union but has yet to solidify its membership in the union since its application in 1987 and the country became eligible in 1999, according to the E.U.'s website. Turkey once showed great potential but, since 2015, the country's human rights record plummeted with the ban on Pride parades that resulted in police attacks on defiant marchers in Istanbul and other cities in the country. Turkey currently ranks 48 out of 49 European countries, according to Rainbow Europe's 2022 interactive map.

Yıldırım said that he has exhausted all legal avenues challenging the ban on Pride that goes against the country's constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The bans on LGBTQ people gathering in public have gone beyond the headline-grabbing violent pride marches to LGBTQ picnics in parks, university campus pride celebrations, sports events, and film festivals, he said.

Another strategy

Jamaican LGBTQ activists have chosen not to be as confrontational in recent years, Campbell explained. Jamaica's criminalization of same-sex relationships under buggery laws and public anti-LGBTQ sentiment fueled by religious hateful rhetoric and the anti-gay Love March Movement continues to create an unsafe atmosphere for LGBTQ Jamaicans.

Since Jamaica hosted its first flash mob Pride parade in August 2015 in Kingston, the capital, Pride celebrations have attempted to expand. Local governments successfully denied Pride organizers in the city of Montego Bay from producing events after its first five years.

"We won't have a march anymore because, obviously, we do still face challenges in terms of safety and security," Campbell explained. "What we try to do is we have smaller events during that week," which coincides with Jamaica's emancipation and independence holidays. Decentralizing Pride events allows the community to participate in creating events while maintaining safety. The strategy has worked, growing Kingston Pride from a one-day event to 12 events and, this year, J-FLAG is taking Pride into rural Jamaica, she said.

"We consider that a major success," Campbell said.

Montego Bay responded by hosting a "Love Up" campaign in 2020, reported 76Crimes, but Montego Bay Pride hasn't produced an event since the 2019 celebration was shut down by anti-gay Mayor Homer Davis.

"That's one of the challenges that you'll find we will face or have faced as it relates to trying to have Pride be successful," Campbell said.

Added Ghoshal: "It's still the fact that when our communities go out into the streets, to try to demonstrate that we exist and to demand our rights, that some governments are completely unwilling to tolerate this visibility and resort to serious human rights abuses to shut down our ability to express ourselves."

Awareness and a responsibility to act

Equality Florida's Smith, a lesbian, recognized the global connection of the LGBTQ movement and the cyclical "toxic ideology" in the mid-1980s when she attended her first international LGBTQ conference in England.

"It is a wheel that keeps turning," she said. "We keep experiencing every few decades, these moral panics, this demonization, this vilification that leads to stochastic violence that encourages hate crimes against us."

She explained that American evangelicals are successfully exporting hate to other countries and are now making a U-turn duplicating those policies shaped specifically for the U.S.

"It is a very toxic but very coordinated attack that we are experiencing" in the U.S. that has happened globally, she said, stating American LGBTQ activists have a role in stopping American evangelicals' exportation of anti-gay rhetoric and laws and anti-LGBTQ politicians participating in "that cycle."

In April, Equality Florida issued a travel advisory against visiting or moving to the Sunshine State, as the B.A.R. previously reported. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is now a 2024 presidential candidate.

Yıldırım, a gay man, did an analysis of targeted anti-LGBTQ submovements and Turkey's connection to the global movement. He agreed that the rising anti-gender movement and the anti-LGBTQ movement in Turkey, and global efforts to push back against LGBTQ progress, are "similar to each other."

"We have to, and we should, fight together as the global LGBTI movement," Yıldırım said. "We have to fight for our struggle, because I know that nowhere in the world that queers received their rights [was] without resistance."

Smith added, "We have to stand together in these [campaigns] and understand that the only way to strike at the heart of it, is to do it in coalition."

The report was published with support from Google.org. Founded in 1990 in San Francisco, Outright, now based in New York, is the first, and possibly only, LGBTQ organization that attained consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, which it received in 2010. In 2008, Outright established the U.N. Core Group, a coalition of 41 member states collaborating to advance LGBTIQ equality.

Outright currently is an $18.3 million organization with staff in 16 countries, according to its 2021 IRS Form 990.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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