World Pride (Aug 12-22) kicked off in Copenhagen at the weekend. Denmark has been a pioneer when it comes to LGBTIQ equality. It was the first country in the world to recognize same-sex partnerships. It was among the first to introduce explicit protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and allow legal gender recognition without third party interventions. There is a lot to celebrate when it comes to LGBTIQ equality in Denmark.
But LGBTIQ pride is not just about celebration. Pride events are a loud and visible expression of the LGBTIQ community affirming our existence and demanding recognition and protection of our human rights.
The protest nature of pride is especially relevant during World Pride because according to OutRight’s recent briefing on prides around the world, only 102 countries hold some form of pride event. This means that almost the same number do not.
In too many places pride events can not happen due to active persecution of LGBTIQ people (such as in Egypt or Indonesia and others), due to restrictive legislation (such as in Russia and Uganda), or due to continuing criminalisation of same-sex relations (such as in Kenya and Nigeria).
Moreover, in most places where some form of Pride is held, organizers face restrictions, attacks, and broader backlash. It is particularly the backlash that I want to highlight, because prides, while being indispensable for the LGBTIQ movement, hold importance way beyond the LGBTIQ community.
At their very basic level pride events are a manifestation of freedom of assembly – a fundamental element of democratic societies available to all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other distinguishing features. Whether or not a state allows and protects a marginalised, often hated community to hold a public event like pride is indicative of the health of their democracy because at the very heart of democratic values is [the] protection of the rights of minorities. As such, pride events serve as a litmus test for democracies. Without a minority like the LGBTIQ community being able to peacefully assemble, democracies lose their essence.
This broader link is painfully evident in places with a long history of pride events that have seen a rising backlash. More often than not a backlash against LGBTIQ people coincides with a rise of authoritarian governments bringing with them a clampdown on civil society, and civil liberties more broadly.
For example, after over a decade of progressively growing pride marches in Istanbul, reaching attendances of up to 100,000 people, the march in 2015 was violently dispersed by police using water cannons and rubber bullets. It has been banned since then, with police violently removing anyone attempting to defy the bans. Meanwhile, human rights and civil liberties have been under increasing attack overall. After a failed coup in 2016, authorities embarked on a far-reaching crackdown on perceived dissent, including opposition politicians, academics, independent journalists and media, civil society and others. Around 160,000 people have been detained so far, many remain in prison without charge.
In Russia, under the guise of protecting “traditional family values,” prides have been under attack since the very first attempts to organise them. In 2012 the city of Moscow passed a 100-year ban on all pride events. A year later the so-called “gay propaganda law” that outlaws the dissemination of information about LGBTIQ issues to minors, which also affects freedom of assembly, was passed. In the years since then, opposition protests have been clamped down on, opposition politicians and independent journalists imprisoned, poisoned, and killed, and the constitution changed to extend President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power.
In Poland, the attack on LGBTIQ people has gone hand in hand with attacks on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
In Hungary – with rampant anti-migrant rhetoric. LGBTIQ people remain among the most hated and marginalised groups in societies around the world.
As such, we make for easy targets for increasingly authoritarian governments.
But an attack on LGBTIQ people is never just that. It always coincides with broader implications for human rights and democracy more broadly. So during this World Pride, whether you are passionate about LGBTIQ equality or not, I urge you to tune in and pay attention – the programme contains numerous digital elements for participation from anywhere.
Because pride affects us all. Everywhere.
Paul Jansen is senior advisor for global advocacy at OutRight Action International.