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Voices: Finding Pride

A park in which multiple couples are seen sitting together at various points. There are two big trees on each side, casting shadows on the same-sex couple sitting in the very centre with their backs turned.

In Warsaw, it was a remnant.  My first lesson in language barriers came with an incorrect translation of the time of Pride, and I found myself at the beginning of the route two hours after everyone had begun to march.  Still, as I walked the route on my own I saw the community and its protest in the leftovers: the police and barricades, the protestors rolling up their signs, the rainbow flags on the street. I saw the love poured into the tribute to Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, a feminist and powerful political ally killed in a plane crash a few years ago.  I saw defiance and felt comfort in the same-sex couples, proudly holding hands on this one day of the year, an act normally reserved for gay clubs or private places. The older woman accented her traditional hair wrap with a rainbow flag, and suddenly, even without the parade, I knew the community had been there, visible, intentionally together. Even in the remnant there was the feeling of pride.

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In Berlin, it was loud. The music filtered down into the subway, reverberating and calling to travelers whether they wanted to listen or not.  This was the middle of the city, and the major monuments bore the markers of a queer celebration. I followed the noise to the parade, bigger than any I had ever seen, and listened as the gay classics belted by Cher and The Weather Girls blended with new mixes of Rihanna and Britney. Small but strong underneath ran a current of chants against Putin, calls for marriage equality, and not often enough, a demand for trans rights. Signs and slogans were punctuated by shirtless men and a flurry of drag queens and roller derby girls. I was pelted with EasyJet whistles and given a Lufthansa bag. The commercialization was clear but so was the celebration. The smiles and laughter overwhelmed the protest. It was a beautiful way to spend the afternoon.

But the activist in me understood as I attended an alternative march in a different neighborhood later in the evening, this one loud in a different way. No trucks, no whistles, no Gloria Gaynor. This was anger and politics, solidarity without the same kind of celebration. A loudspeaker belted speeches that translated even without the help of a German friend. “No to homophobia, no to transphobia, no to Islamaphobia. No to capitalism. We are queer feminists.” They marched together with signs and fists raised. This was homegrown, less organized but totally of the community.

Both Berlin, both loud, this divergence was evidence of the changing face of the community. What should pride look like?

In Prague, it was new. Only in its third year, things are still developing, and it was a fresh kind of excitement in the streets. Things are changing and the city reflected the progress. Waiters waved from restaurant doors with rainbow stickers under their name tags. The US Embassy lit its building in rainbow colors. Pride flags hung from buildings along the river. People, more this year than ever before, traveled from the countryside and from neighboring countries to celebrate in the gorgeous old city. Driven in its first year by homophobic comments from the President, the march has become a happier space where police officers smile and dance with the crowd.  Three lonely protestors walked largely unnoticed behind the celebrants. There was for the first time a corporate sponsor which refused to withdraw its support even after an attack campaign from a conservative group sponsored by Russia. There were a few hateful stickers and slogans in the park at the end of the march, but they morphed into unrecognizable rubbish with the footprints of thousands of visitors and friends. Marchers lounged around in the park with their dogs and beer, a picnic with a techno soundtrack from the stages and tents set up to continue the celebration into the night. This was pride blooming as the stifling heat of the summer faded away.

In Buenos Aires, it was more familiar. For the first time, it was at the end of my time in a city instead of at the beginning. As I walked the crowd, I saw friends and familiar faces from different groups and organizations. Although I always feel the warmth of the community on these days, in Buenos Aires I also felt the warmth of friendship and a sadness at the knowledge that I would soon have to leave. I marched as security alongside a truck full of friends and activists, women who had welcomed me and my broken Spanish into the group a few months before the march. Of course, it was hectic. Only in Buenos Aires was the march at night, without any barriers, people pushing, walking, dancing in the street as trucks rolled slowly, slowly down Avenida de Mayo. The frantic energy of the crowd clashed with the small space and far from steady pace of the massive machines decked in banners and balloons. In Argentina, there is legal equality. Decades of activism produced same-sex marriage, adoption, and an extremely liberal gender identity law.  Still there were rules and goals; the march remained political even as it was a celebration. Corporate sponsors were not allowed, although the current government noted its support for the event on signs and banners everywhere, problematic for some in the community. This was pride from a different perspective, a community celebrating its many successes even as it noted the long way to go.

In Delhi, it was organic. A crowd gathered and marched together, making its own pace. There was music and dancing but there was also time to talk.  A rainbow banner supported by an ever-changing guard formed the middle of the group as we walked the several blocks from Barakhamba. Chanting and drumming mixed with voices laughing. Masked faces and rainbow scarves made the group a beacon of color. Delhi’s many forms of diversity paraded through the streets. As the march ended, we listened together to speeches and calls for freedom, lit candles in hand.  A few short weeks later, on the same route, I stood with many of those same people but all of us dressed in black. Rainbows muted by the color of mourning as activists discussed the 377 ruling and how the community would move forward. Below the shock and sadness there was a current of resilience, of anger, of determination, of pride.

For the past six months, I have been steeped in Pride. Five countries so far and two more to go, this is a year of celebration and investigation, of protest and participation, of listening and learning and delving deeper into my own queer identity, one which many around the world claim along with me. Every community is different and their celebrations reflect that, but despite so many differences, some things translate. Visibility, solidarity, anger, passion, celebration. There is always dancing, even if it takes the form of fists pumping in unison, always singing, sometimes from speakers, sometimes made from voices joined in chants and song. There is always a feeling of communion and support.

This is Pride, or what it means to me, and I am thankful to every city, every group, every person, who has given me the chance to learn and grow through these experiences.  It is Pride that helped me shed the shame, helped me find community, and helped me to believe that all of us deserve to feel the love and support of community every single day.

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