Pride Parades in London, Toronto, Madrid, and Paris this year attracted millions of participants, and concern for the plight of oppressed gays and lesbians in ultra-homophobic countries was high on their agendas.
In London last Saturday, June 30, despite torrential rains and the discovery of a terrorist-planted car stuffed with explosives along the parade route through the city’s West End, dozens of thousands of buoyant LGBTers — led by the city’s mayor — marched to Trafalgar Square for a rally and concert featuring entertainment headliners.
Mayor Ken Livingstone, a member of the Labour Party left, appeared on the lead Pride float with openly gay actor John Barrowman. A leading man in many West End theater plays and musicals, and a popular figure on a wide range of BBC television shows, Barrowman — who holds joint U.K.-U.S. citizenship — is best known to U.S. audiences for his roles in the Brit import TV series “Dr. Who,” the films “De-Lovely” and “The Producers,” and the short-lived prime time U.S. TV soap operas “Titans” and “Central Park West.”
In his remarks to the Pride rally, Livingstone — who appeared on-stage with his two small children — used his remarks to underscore the plight of LGBT people in other countries.
“This has become a good city for people of a different sexual orientation to live in.–we follow places like San Francisco and Copenhagen and Amsterdam — but let’s never forget these are just a few secure, isolated areas, in a world still awash with bigotry and hatred,” the mayor said.
“We used to see a situation a hundred years ago where gays and lesbians would be beaten to death and the police would turn a blind eye. That is still the situation for tens and millions of our comrades and sisters and brothers around the face of the planet,” Livingstone added, noting that “Peter Tatchell, who was in the march today, was viciously beaten by fascist thugs in Moscow, that’s still the situation.”
Tatchell, the founder and head of the militant British gay rights group OutRage, was severely assaulted in the attempt to hold a banned Moscow Gay Pride demonstration in front of the Russian capital’s city hall on May 27 (see this reporter’s May 31 article, “The Agony of Moscow Pride.”)
Tatchell, who has been nominated as the British Green Party’s parliamentary candidate for the university town of Oxford, told this reporter two weeks ago that he is still suffering vision problems, some memory loss, and cognition difficulties as a result of the beating to his head he received in Moscow.
“So let’s celebrate Pride in London today,” Livingstone went on to tell the Pride rally, “but let’s do all the things we can for those people in other cities who still live in fear and oppression.”
Shortly before the rally, Livingstone met with gay Iraqi refugee Ali Hili, coordinator of the London-based Iraqi LGBT group, which has a network of members and informants throughout Iraq. Iraqi LGBT has documented 350 murders of lesbian, gay, and transgendered Iraqis since the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq unleashed a lethal campaign of “sexual cleansing” by religious death squads, which are commanded by Islamic political formations courted by the U.S. and British occupiers. (The anti-gay reign of terror in Iraq has been regularly covered in these pages — for this reporter’s most recent report, see the May 3 article, “Iraqi Gay Activist Arrested, Tortured.”)
In what Hili told this reporter was the first-ever formal participation by gay Iraqis in a Pride event anywhere in the world, the Iraqi LGBT group was invited by London Pride organizers to have a booth under a tent at the rally. The group distributed leaflets to the Pride marchers and rally participants, and sold T-shirts with the slogans, “Iraqi Gay and Proud — Coming Soon, Baghdad Pride” and “You Can Save Lives, Iraqi LGBT Needs Your Help.”
The all-volunteer organization currently maintains five safe-houses in Iraq for gays who have been forced underground after threats by the anti-gay religious death squads, which have now been integrated into the Iraqi police and the Interior Ministry by the U.S.-backed Iraqi government. Iraqi LGBT was forced to close three other safe-houses in southern Iraq in May due to lack of funds.
“We had over 14 of our members participating in this year’s Pride,” Hili told me. “Our group attracted lots of media attention, and our members gave many interviews to journalists.”
Hili added that, “I had a very warm welcome from Mayor Livingstone, who spoke about the terrible situation that his government and the U.S. government caused because of the awful and illegal war in Iraq.” Livingstone promised to take up the issue of the terror campaign against Iraqi gays, Hili said.
The London Pride rally was also addressed by two members of the new British government headed by Labour Party Prime Minister Gordon Brown, successor to Tony Blair.
Openly lesbian MP Angela Eagle, who was named last week by Brown as junior Treasury Minister, was introduced to the crowd by the Labour Party’s new Deputy Leader in the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, who has also been named Minister for Women. Harman’s ministerial portfolio is also expected to include equality issues, including gay rights.
“This is my first public appearance as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and this is the first public appearance of our new treasury minister Angela Eagle,” Harman told the Pride rally. “I think we should celebrate her appointment here today,” she added, calling Eagle “my sister in government.”
Harman, who is considered a feminist, and has been identified with the Labour Party’s left wing, promised the Pride rally that the Brown government would initiate “new work in schools to tackle homophobia, more work within the police and the criminal justice system to prevent and deter homophobic crime.”
But doubts have been raised about new Prime Minister Brown’s commitment to full gay equality by gay rights campaigners and the gay press.
Last Wednesday, June 27, OutRage’s Tatchell issued a statement saying, “Gordon Brown has missed more gay equality votes in parliament than any other MP — in 13 out of 14 votes on gay equality in the House of Commons, Mr. Brown has not bothered to turn up and vote.”
Tatchell added that, “While I doubt he [Brown] is homophobic, he has failed to make any serious effort to vote in favor of gay law reform.”
As the Toronto Pride Parade made its way down Yonge Street — the main street in the city’s gay neighborhood — in the lead as Grand Marshal was the co-secretary of the International Gay and Lesbian Association, Rossana Flamer-Caldera, an LGBT activist from Sri Lanka. Flamer-Caldera was co-founder in 2004 of the Sri Lankan LGBT group Equal Ground, which held its own four-day Pride festival this year from May,.20-24, including the country’s first-ever LGBT film festival.
Sri Lanka, where homosexuality is a crime punishable by ten years in prison, was one of eight countries which Toronto Pride organizers decided to highlight this year because queers face persecution there in the form of torture, imprisonment, or the death penalty.
Representatives of gays in Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria, Belarus, Russia, Jamaica, and Honduras — each carrying their country’s flag — were invited to lead the Toronto Pride Parade right behind Sri Lanka’s Flamer-Caldera.
“It was the most awe-inspiring moment of my life,” Flamer-Caldera said, adding, “Fortunately, my sunglasses masked the tears that streamed down my face — it was just unbelievable! The million plus crowd greeted me (and the rest of the parade) with so much enthusiasm and support, cheering and whistling all the way. I cannot put it into words really, how I truly felt.”
Arsham Parsi, executive director of the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO — formerly the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization, PGLO), who was granted asylum by Canada last year as a sexual refugee after fleeing for his life from police persecution in Iran, and who now resides in Toronto, was invited to represent Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death.
“This was my first time marching in a Pride parade,” Parsi told me. He added that doing so, and carrying the Iranian flag, “was very important for me — I kept thinking about all the persecuted Iranian queer people as I marched.”
Parsi went on to say that his feelings as he marched “were something between happiness and severe fear: I was happy because this was my first Gay Pride march in which I could protest discrimination and torture and persecution for being queer internationally — but I also had fear for my personal security, because I know that there are Iranian intelligence police in Toronto.”
Madrid was host this year to EuroPride, and a crowd estimated at 2.5 million joined in the 200 LGBT cultural, festive, and sporting events that culminated in a parade this past weekend on Saturday, June 30.
The theme of the Madrid EuroPride was “Europe Now –Equality is Possible,” and the parade, which made its way through the middle of Spain’s capitol city, featured 45 floats, including entries from Manchester, Marseille, and Zurich, and organizers said that some 200,000 people from all over Europe had come to Madrid specifically for the event.
In 2005, Zapatero pushed through parliament legalization of same-sex marriage as well as the right of same-sex couples to adopt children, and brought in legislation that made homosexual rights equal to those of heterosexuals in areas including inheritance and workplace benefits. (Zapatero’s appeal to the Spanish parliament on the day it voted to legalize gay marriage was the most powerful speech in favor of full equality for those with same-sex hearts ever delivered by a head of government anywhere on the globe — to read this moving speech, click here.)
Earlier this year, Spain passed a law that will allow transsexuals to change their name and gender without undergoing gender reassignment surgery.
“We have to defend our rights as gays, and from Spain we are going to proclaim loudly that these rights can be achieved everywhere in Europe,” said Antonio Poveda, 39, president of the FELGBT, Spain’s Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual and Bisexual Federation, who singled out Poland and Russia as two European countries that persecute homosexuals.
Several groups in the parade carried banners saying, “Poland, stop homophobia. For a European Union free of discrimination,” “Next EuroPride in Poland,” and “Watch out for the German shepherd” next to a photograph of Pope Benedict XVI.
Gay activists draped in rainbow flags also demonstrated in front of the Polish Embassy in Madrid, calling for greater equality for Poland’s gay community. Demonstrators “called on Poland’s conservative government to back down from a policy against homosexual influences in public life,” Associated Press reported.
Zapatero’s government was represented in the parade by Minister of Culture Carmen Calvo, who told Agence France-Presse, “We are very proud to receive the rest of Europe. Today Spain is an example of advanced democracy. We must fight homophobia and reactionary attitudes.” The heads of Spain’s two major trade union federations also took part in the march.
In Paris last Saturday, 500,000 people turned out for the Marche des fiertÃ©s, a Pride parade led by openly gay Paris Mayor Bertrand DelanoÃ«, the radio network Europe 1 reported.
Paris Pride’s slogan this year, “No Compromise on Equal Rights,” was addressed to newly-elected conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, who opposes both gay marriage and gay adoptions.
“It’s too bad that the right, and notably Monsieur Sarkozy, who took so many years to understand that the PACS [France's version of civil unions] was a necessary step forward, are now trying to restrain the march of History,” Mayor DelanoÃ« told the daily Le Monde at the parade, adding: “The march of History is toward liberty, equality, and equal rights.”
The Pride parade included delegations from the major trade union federations, and from a coalition of groups favoring more liberal asylum policies for refugees from sexual persecution in homophobic counties.
Some Paris Pride marchers paused to lay flowers at the small square re-baptized Place Pierre Seel in honor of the only surviving French ‘Pink Triangle’ to have testified openly about his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps, to which he was sent for being gay. In his 1993 autobiography, and in his unforgettable appearance in Rob Epstein’s documentary “Paragraph 175,” on the Nazi campaign of terror against gays, Pierre Seel helped let younger generations know that we, too, were part of the Holocaust. (For more on Pierre Seel, click here.)
[The Iraqi LGBT's website is http://iraqilgbtuk.blogspot.com/ The Iranian Queer Organization's website is http://www.pglo.net/ The Sri Lankan organization Equal Ground is at http://www.equal-ground.org/ International Gay and Lesbian Association's website Theishttp://www.ilga.org/]
Doug Ireland, a longtime radical journalist and media critic, runs the blog DIRELAND, where this article appeared July 5, 2007. It was written for Gay City News — New York City’s largest lesbian and gay weekly newspaper.