A March Without Rainbow Flags

The World Social Forum – Dakar, Senegal

6-11 February 2011

Each World Social Forum shows a glimpse of the chaos that results when civil society comes together in all the splendor of its plurality and diversity.

Your mouth is fundamental against fundamentalisms.

Marcelo Ernesto Ferreyra, IGLHRC Program Coordinator, Latin America & Caribbean

If you are looking for order, straightforward proposals, reassuring conclusions, and smooth coordination of joint actions and if you love vertical and hierarchical leadership, this is not the place for you. The World Social Forum is a space for multiple voices, for dialogue and mutual understanding, for diversity and plurality and all the turmoil and disorganization that results from it. I believe that as part of a vulnerable sector of society LGBT groups and activists should love these more pluralistic arenas.

However, each World Social Forum event bears the imprint of the host country. This may be seen in the supreme freedom, solidarity, and self-determination in Porto Alegre to the distressing verticalism of Caracas. In the case of Dakar I also noticed a particular local imprint: an absence of visibility for LGBT people.

Thanks to the committed activism of their creators and coordinators, spaces for sexual orientation and gender identity and expression have always been important and principle features of each chapter of the World Social Forum. This has been true from Porto Alegre to Belem do Para and from Mumbai to Nairobi. However, in Dakar, despite the superhuman efforts of the organizers, everything was different from the beginning.

During preparations for the registration of workshops and events, African LGBT colleagues advised us to keep a low profile. Any public demonstration would seriously compromise the security of the local LGBT community, immersed in a society with a strong fundamentalist tenor, even a long time after the Forum.

World Social Forum Opening March

World Social Forum Opening March

For that reason, the march that opens each chapter of the Forum did not feature any of the many characteristic rainbow flags.  The opening procession was held on February 6, with the participation of about 70,000 people and organizations from 123 countries. It departed at 1:00 pm from the Radio Televison Senegalaise (RTS) Headquarters, close to the Great Mosque of Dakar to Cheikh Anta Diop University; which is hosting the Forum's activities.

Following the wise advice of my colleagues, I did not take my own rainbow flag. This made it difficult to identify other LGBT participants. I did manage, however, to meet with feminist colleagues from Uruguay, Peru, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil - members of the Marcosur Feminist Association – under the slogan, "Your mouth is fundamental against fundamentalisms." This seemed to be the appropriate activism in the local context.

The Forum promises 6 days of intensive work, which includes several panels and workshops that talk about homophobia and the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. The participation of several important speakers has also been confirmed – including Luis Inacio Lula da Silva and Evo Morales – and I will share more on this here as the Forum progresses.

World Social Forum 2011 - Part Two »
Find out more about the World Social Forum 2011 in Dakar, Senegal here. »

World Social Forum 2011