Uber butch dyke and performer Lea Delaria hosted a panel discussion on Friday (6 July) at Amnesty’s Human Rights Centre in Shoreditch, east London, around a film about the history of LGBT prides in Latvia.
At 90 minutes long, the film pulled no punches. We heard opinions from every quarter, from the hilariously religious mother figure who carried a cross and lay down in an attempt to stop the marches; to the frankly terrifying right wing fascists. Interested and engaged queers were counterbalanced by those who simply wanted to hide in their corner.
It was a fascinating film which posed some relevant questions; is pride the best way to exhibit ourselves in such a hostile environment, would softly-softly be a better way? Why is it that St Petersburg has gone from gay mecca to gay gulag in less than a decade? What is the future of LGBTI rights in Europe or globally?
The discussion which followed was given weight by the presence of Maurice Tomlinson the Jamaican activist who had to flee for his life from his home country and Kristine Garina, chair of Mozaika (Latvia), whose organisation has weathered the storm of hatred and abuse which has seen many activists flee that country also.
First hand experience was supported Paul Dillane from Amnesty International UK, who is a lawyer working with asylum seekers who gave a cogent and forceful explanation of where we are at legally and Sam Dick rounded it off with an internal UK perspective as seen by Stonewall, Britain’s leading lesbian, gay and bisexual organization.
In the end someone asked Garina if it was worth hosting Pride in an environment where marchers were pelted with excrement and death threats flew around almost casually. Thousand of anti-pride people had shown up in the early days of the marches. Political parties had rivalled Hitler in their pronouncements about queers. The church did the usual death of civilization number, and some very sad people became very dangerous in their confused thinking.
Amnesty International and others had supported the prides and as a consequence being queer was, yet again, seen by the right wingers as a western import.
This year, Garina said, the number of anti-pride protesters had dwindled to a handful, as to why that was, nobody knew.
One thing that was clear was that no matter what your feelings about pride, the visibility it brings is vital. Have we not just seen World Pride in London cut down by a combination of poor internal management and a governmental body whom one would suspect would like us all to go away and take up macramé. We are just an inconvenience it seems to the running of this city.
London mayor Boris Johnson, and it appears the Met Police, may have managed to do what nobody else has done for a long time; re-politicise us in our fight for our rights. Hopefully we may see the rebirth of the Winter Pride fundraiser and, against all trends, might we become less corporate and more of a community? Well, I’ve always been a dreamer.
Linda Wilkinson is an author and former chair of Amnesty.