The Politics of Pride

The Politics of Pride

Pride events occur in more than half of the countries of the world. In places with long histories of Pride, events are a celebration of the advances made in recognition of the human rights of LGBTIQ people so far and a reminder of the challenges ahead. In places where Pride is a new initiative, they are often protests, challenging the existent social stigma, discrimination, and violence against LGBTIQ persons. Pride events are a way for LGBTIQ people to affirm our existence and fight for recognition and protection of our rights. 

But the importance of Pride goes beyond fighting for LGBTIQ equality Pride events serve as a litmus test for democracies. At their very core, Pride events are a manifestation of the freedom of assembly. This is a basic human right available to all regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression. As such, whether or not a state allows and protects a marginalized, often hated community to hold an event such as Pride is indicative of the health of their democracy.

No matter what form they take, Pride events remain an important element of the global LGBTIQ movement. In celebration, they inspire joy and visibility for the LGBTIQ community members who may not feel celebrated in their homes. In protest, they boldly push for change and serve as a gathering place for like-minded individuals. Despite major gains in some areas, OutRight’s “Pride Around the World” briefing illustrates the many challenges facing efforts to organize Pride around the globe, including a growing backlash against Pride events, even in places with a long history of them. 

OutRight’s report focuses on many different factors that influence the decline of LGBTIQ peoples’ right to assemble. A key challenge outlined in the briefing is increasing restrictions on Pride events, which seem broadly linked to the rise of authoritarian regimes around the world. What seems like a natural correlation between authoritarian governments and a restriction on civil liberties for everyone, is actually much more complex, and dangerous, for the LGBTIQ community specifically.

For example, in Russia, the rise to power of President Putin has gone hand in hand with a clampdown on civil liberties and any form of dissent. LGBTIQ people specifically have become a pawn in political power play. Pride events have been banned in Moscow and elsewhere, and the notorious “gay propaganda” law purportedly aimed at protecting so-called traditional family values, prohibits the dissemination of any information about LGBTIQ people to minors. Political powers position LGBTIQ rights and family rights against each other, creating the illusion of a zero-sum game and portraying LGBTIQ people as somehow threatening to families and children.

Similar trends can be observed in nearby Hungary, Poland, Georgia, and Moldova, and elsewhere. Most recently, Hungary passed a law that bans LGBTIQ representation in the media, while so-called “LGBT-Free Zones” have emerged all over Poland. While Pride has not been banned in any of these countries, increasing hate speech and restrictive legislation has legitimized LGBTIQ-phobia and lead to attacks on Pride events by private citizens. 

In Turkey, LGBTIQ people have become a particular target of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. After over two decades of successful and ever-growing Pride events in Istanbul, they have been banned since 2015, and protesters defying the ban have been dispersed with violent force. 

Pride events are under attack elsewhere too. In Uganda, where same-sex relations are criminalized, activists managed to stage several Pride events, until 2016 when authorities gathered ahead of participants at Lake Victoria, in Entebbe, and ordered those present to disperse. In 2019, organizers tried to revive the event but were threatened with arrest and violence. Thereafter, Pride organizers felt it would not be safe to hold Pride events in the foreseeable future.

Still, there is good news too. 

As further testament to their importance, despite often hostile environments, new Prides continue to emerge every year. In Eswatini, one of the last absolute monarchies in the world, Pride celebrations have taken place since 2018 with no direct interference from the government. Societal discrimination and religious groups create a difficult environment to find venues willing to host the events, a prerequisite for legal gathering. 

Despite administrative barriers, Bosnia and Herzegovina held its first Pride in the capital, Sarajevo, in September 2019. Societal prejudices are still rampant in the country, but this only reminds the LGBTIQ community of why it is so important to be visible and active during Pride. 

Other places, like Trinidad and Tobago, have hosted LGBTIQ community events for more than 30 years, but these events were not public and were aimed specifically at the community, and, as such, didn’t constitute what we think of as Pride events, which include some form of public and visibility element. Same-sex relations were recently decriminalized in the country and as a result, administrative barriers to organizing legal and public Pride events also dissipated leading to first Pride events being organized. 

The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 had numerous implications for the LGBTIQ community, amplifying vulnerabilities and exclusion experienced by LGBTIQ people on a daily basis, and also impacting efforts to fight for change, including through Pride events, the majority of which had to be canceled. 

However, COVID-19 also prompted ingenuity. Where physical events could not take place, virtual creativity took over and allowed Pride organizers even in countries where it is unsafe to physically gather to have a virtual presence and reach a larger audience. Many other organizations utilized the virtual format to gather millions of LGBTIQ people that they otherwise would not have been able to reach. Events like Global Pride, Pride Afrique, Global Black Pride, and Pride of Africa offered the opportunity for millions of viewers to join events that promoted global LGBTIQ unity, racial equity, COVID-19 relief, and an end to police violence and oppression.

Suffice to say, Pride is one of the most important tools for the advancement of LGBTIQ human rights. It serves as a test of democracy, a celebration, and a tool for community mobilization. To learn more about the various aspects of Pride Around the World, read our report and share it with your circle.