Do we still need Pride? Just look at Chechnya if you want an answer

Pride is as vital as it's ever been, says Pliny Soocoormanee

Pride is as vital as it's ever been, says Pliny Soocoormanee (Wikipedia)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

This year marks the 46th Pride parade in London. Over 26,000 of us are expected to attend, so of course, London will grind(r) to a halt!

What a change. Gone are the days of capital punishment, criminalisation and Section 28. Now we have equality of the age of consent, same-sex marriage and lesbian mothers are no longer losing custody of their children solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.

The brave activists of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) who organised the first Pride in 1972 could not have imagined so much progress in such a short space of time. In the UK at least, LGBT+ rights and public attitudes towards LGBT+ people have been transformed.

So why is it still important to be at Pride?

I hear so many voices around me complaining:

“There is no need for Pride, the battle is won”

“Pride has become too commercialised”

“It is a corporate takeover”

“Pride is just a street party, not a protest movement”

“It’s all about getting drunk and having sex”

There’s no denying the truth in some of the criticism. In its origins, Pride was a protest against injustice.  An affirmation of our right to exist as lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT+). It is the public action stating that we are visible and PROUD of ourselves. “Gay is Good” was, and still is, heard loud and clear on the streets of our capital city. “Gay is Good” also echoes around the world, reaching places where the basic human rights of LGBT+ people are under siege from violent regimes. Pride affirms our shared rights. Pride IS still a protest.

Being at Pride is also a very personal experience. It touches your being. It is a statement of personal liberation, while joining you to a community. It’s empowering. One learns to take PRIDE in who they are.

Every year, it is somebody’s first Pride. For everyone this is a truly special moment. Especially when you have just come out of the closet. It brings an extra sense of elation and freedom when you are marching together, affirming your sexuality and being proud of it. This is a moment to be cherished, a moment to celebrate freedom, love and our diversity and similarity. 

It is a collective experience, because every one of us owns Pride. All of us make it special. True, there are fewer people these days carrying banners demanding change, a better society, social progress, or fair access to healthcare. Many of us never question our personal liberation. However true liberation is only achieved when all members of the LGBT+ community can feel free to be who they are. Still today, so many people are not able to be themselves.

Just being sexually non-conforming is a challenge. It is far more difficult if your very existence is threatened by a society that declares you illegal, actively oppresses you and hunts you down for just being you. I have met people from Iran, Uganda, Nigeria and Russia whose personal stories of persecution, pain, hope and fear are heart-breaking. It is important to note that Lesbians are doubly oppressed as women and as lesbians particularly in countries with no respect for human rights.

The recent reports of state-sponsored torture and murder of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya have touched many of us. They have been through hell just because they love someone of the same sex. To remain indifferent to such a barbaric situation puts us on the side of the oppressor — the brutal Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov — who claims that gay people simply do not exist.

This year, I will be marching in solidarity with the LGBT+ people of Chechnya, with the Peter Tatchell Foundation.  We must speak out against this. We must demand a STOP to this injustice and show the people being persecuted in Chechnya that they have not been forgotten. Their pain, their struggle is our struggle too.

This is why I will march. For the many people still struggling with their sexuality. For those who cannot be open about their sexuality. Above all, for those in Chechnya who cannot come out and march. I hope that my presence, Our Presence, will bring hope to their hearts. A better world is possible.

As the great gay campaigner Harvey Milk once said:

“You cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living.”

Participating in Pride is about making a stand.

Making a difference.

Daring to dream of a better tomorrow.

Let’s make it happen!

Pliny Soocoormanee is executive assistant at the Peter Tatchell Foundation working for LGBT and human rights. For all updates, follow him on Twitter @Allequal1

This article first appeared on Conatus News: