So as the snow melts here in the great white north of Canada, organizers around the world are once again gearing up for Pride season. Florida International University held a screening of Beyond Gay this month to celebrate Pride Week (more here about that). As always we’re thrilled that film continues to be relevant and find new audiences. The Pride event of the year will be EuroPride in Riga Lativa. The dates are June 15 – 21. I’m still figuring out how to get there, but anyone in the region and everyone with the resources should make an effort to get to this event. This is the first time EuroPride will be held in a former Soviet State, and the organizers are sure to throw a fantastic event. Their tag line: Changing History is Hot! EuroPride 2010 in Warsaw Poland was an amazing experience for us; there was an incredible energy at the events that is so much more important than typical Pride celebrations in North America. Marching for LGBT* justice in places where our rights are still in question by much of society is empowering in a way that is impossible to describe – you have to feel it for yourself. Riga Pride has a fundraising campaign happening right now, if you can contribute please help out, because as usual finding sponsors in Latvia is much more difficult than in much of Europe and North America. We have more exciting news about screenings coming soon, so keep an eye here and on our Facebook page.
It’s Pride Season! I’ve just had three amazing in Toronto at the World Pride Human Rights Conference. I’ve had the pleasure to meet and hear activists from more than fifty-one countries, including Brazil, Russia, Nigeria and Uganda. From the first session to the last, it was wonderful to participate in so many great discussions and share ideas with the hundreds of other delegates. One highlight was Edie Windsor, the 85 year old woman who sued the US government over DOMA and won, opening the door for same sex marriage throughout the United States. Another highlight was the reception last night at the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite in Ontario’s Parliament, and hearing Premier Kathleen Wynne, Canada’s first elected LGBT* head of government, discuss the importance of Pride.
I am here in Toronto doing research for my graduate studies in media and LGBT* activism at Simon Fraser University. All this Pride excitement reminded me of a paper I wrote in my first semester. It’s geeky and academic but it reflects on the potential of Pride, and I thought I would share a short excerpt from it before the big party starts this weekend.
I hope you enjoy it as well. Happy Pride!
Pride Affects: Queer Transformations in Public Spaces
“Pride, really worldwide, it’s the same story. People are making costumes. They’re making music. They’re writing poetry. And all of that creative energy is so powerful. It’s our answer to guns and bombs, quite truthfully.”
Gilbert Baker – Artist and Activist
Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride (2009)
The power of Gay Pride events is not derived from simply representing a community, parading sexuality, attracting huge crowds, or making money. The true social and cultural power of Pride is its ability to create change in society by deterritorializing and reterritorializing the public sphere with a queer frame. It breaks down the inherent heterosexism of society that marginalizes LGBT* people, and this reframing removes the threat of violence that many people experience daily. It replaces the isolation, violence and danger of public displays of queerness with intense playfulness, humour, love, joy and community. Pride is extremely effective at initiating this process for a number of interconnected reasons. Its history, ritual and ceremonial aspects imbue it with an intrinsically meaningful component for many people, who are therefore very emotionally invested. Moreover, the duration, richness and complexity of the shared sensory experience gives Pride incredible affective power for social change.
I didn’t fully experience the powerful force of Pride until many years after first celebrating it in nightclubs. The difference was that I was involved and I shared the experience in public. I volunteered. My duty was to be the liaison between the parade director and the police officer patrolling the route before the parade. The assignment was with Officer Chris, a handsome, straight, city police officer who slowly drove the route in his cruiser while I walked alongside. I had no idea that our presence would be profoundly symbolic for so many people, and it was on this day that I first recognized the magnitude of the transformations taking place at Pride. Transformative forces are much more powerful when the experience includes performing the rituals; participation in the parade heightens the intensity of the experience, as does the huge scale of the event.
A Pride parade is what Brian Massumi (2011) characterizes as an “occurrent art” that transforms the potential into the actual. The qualitative component of an event, like Pride, depends upon how it unfolds, how it becomes co-felt, and the immediacy of the experience (Massumi, 4). There is a relational and participatory element to activist art that is in essence political, as well as a creative, self-enjoyment aspect that is an aesthetic experience. Along with the aesthetico-political, there is a speculative realm that relates to the shaping of social activity and worldly potential, and a pragmatic force that directs the “how” of the experience of becoming, the process of change (Massumi, 16).
Pride is an occurrent art, steeped in creative self – enjoyment, as well as socio-political purpose. Its speculative sphere envisions a more inclusive, less discriminatory future; the pragmatics involve organizing the parade, and the event unfolding. Officer Chris and I were the first dimension in a world of activity larger than our own – larger than the parade waiting behind us – larger even than the hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets. The ritual that was about to be performed was a step towards establishing equal rights for people worldwide. Claiming social justice for LGBT* Vancouverites was merely the activity of the day, and like all Pride parades since Stonewall, this process is primarily about reshaping the territory of gender and sexuality in both the social sphere and individual minds. When we appeared on the parade route, the crowd saw the happening just beginning to stir, “the cusp of the ‘more’ of the general activity of the world-ongoing turning into the singularity of the coming event” (Massumi, 3). The anticipation and enthusiasm of the crowd was palpable. They cheered loudly, and literally screamed out “Thank you” to Officer Chris for the entire route. People ran up and shook his hand, and gushed appreciation towards him. I was overwhelmed by the fact that his presence caused such unbridled excitement and emotion in people, but I soon understood why. He was the established authority securing safe space for the further acts of deterritorialization that were about to take place. In many parts of the world this is unthinkable. By his side, dressed as queer cowboy, I operated as the figure of a parallel yet to be realized future territory; I indicated the possibility of more than what was now. I was also unprepared for how many people would recognize me, thank me, hug me, scream and cheer just because I was there. The crowd was feeling the potential of what was coming; we were all literally on the cusp of becoming more than before, and there was powerful energy resonating between us.
I also felt the affects of the crowd; the just-beginning forces of Pride. Joy, excitement, appreciation, anticipation, everything was unfolding in the moment as we reterritorialized the streets. There are many understandings of this term “affect.” In her book The Affect Theory Reader, Melissa Gregg describes an in-between-ness “in many ways synonymous with force or forces of encounter.” These forces are constantly modulating, rhythmic waves of sensation, immanence and encounter that position a body’s (human or other) belonging or non-belonging to the world (Gregg 1-3). In her essay After Affect, Anna Gibbs explains mimesis as corporeally based forms of imitation that occur either voluntarily or involuntarily and generate a tendency to “converge emotionally” (Gregg, 186). Affect contagion is at the core of mimesis, which like affect, does not belong to the subject or object but rather as a force that connects and propels them (Gregg, 194). The waves of feeling at Pride demonstrate how affect is contagious through mimesis. Smiles, hugs, laughter, and cheers resonate through the massive crowds as the parade experience affects the participants with feelings of joy, purpose, belonging, and hope happiness. The shared understanding of this queer public space is the incredibly valuable potential of the Pride affect.
Bob Christie is a Vancouver based filmmaker, activist and media theorist researching, and advocating for LGBT* social justice worldwide. His 2009 feature documentary Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride has screened in more than fifty festivals at festivals around the world, winning several best documentary awards.
Gregg, Melissa; Gregory J. Seigworth eds. The Affect Theory Reader. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.
Brian Massumi. Semblance and Event: Activist Philosophy and the Occurrent Arts. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011.
We are very excited to be having another screening of Beyond Gay in Vancouver, commemorating its premiere here at Pride House during the 2010 Winter Olympics. This screening is taking place during the 2014 Winter Olympics on February 22nd at 9 PM and it is being hosted by Reel Causes and our friends at the SFU Woodwards Cultural Unit. In addition to Beyond Gay, at 7 PM there will also be a screening of Born This Way, a fascinating look at the lives of LGBT people living in Cameroon Africa, co-presented by the Human Rights Watch Traveling Film Festival and Reel Causes. Both screenings are free and will be held at the GoldCorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodwards, 149 West Hastings.
February 22nd is the last weekend of the games in Russia and we sincerely hope that the Olympics in Scohi are free of violence, and that our event will be an important moment to reflect upon the issues of LGBT rights worldwide that were successfully highlighted as a result of the games. Wishing safe travels to the LGBT delegations from the City of Vancouver and elsewhere that are working to rid the games of LGBT discrimination and establish a Pride House at all future Olympic games.
Rings and Rainbow image courtesy of Christopher Stribley.
Reel Causes is a Vancouver based non-profit society of socially conscious cinema lovers that hosts monthly film screenings. Members use their passion for film to support community organizations that affect positive change both locally and globally.
It’s hard to believe it has been over five years since I was attacked on the streets of Moscow while filming a gay rights demonstration for my documentary Beyond Gay: The
Politics of Pride. It is the only time I have ever been physically gay bashed, so it’s no wonder the memory of those days in Moscow still gives me shivers – and fills me with anger and frustration. They were, without question, the scariest days of my life. What is even more scary and shocking, is that for the activists we met and friends we made in Russia, things are much more dangerous today, than they were in 2008.
Thankfully the media attention of LGBTQ rights outside Russia finally seems to have broken through anecdotal reporting and this week it reached an all time high, with more people than ever lending their voice to the outrage. Personally I have written my MP many times, and the minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, twice back in February and March of 2012. He was kind enough to get back to me last August with a letter explaining how he had spoken out about it in the House of Commons and:
“Upon my request, Canada’s concerns have been conveyed to Russian authorities, and a travel advisory has been placed on the website of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada advising Canadians of the implications of this law. The promotion of Canadian values will continue to feature prominently in our ongoing dialogue with Russia.”
- John Baird, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs
I haven’t noticed that dialogue figuring prominently with our government, or anywhere for that matter, other than in LGBTQ media. I’ve signed countless petitions, posted hundreds of articles and discussed Russia at several dozen Beyond Gay screenings in North America and Europe over the last five years. Only to see the situation worsen and my colleagues repeatedly assaulted, arrested, fined and generally victimized by this government’s policy of state sanctioned discrimination against LGBTQ people.
I’m not the least bit surprised by prominent activist Nikolai Alekseev’s frustration and disdain with the call for a Boycott of Stoli vodka. Generally speaking OK, bring attention to the issue by every means possible, but it’s pretty sad that the best we have come up with in five years is a travel advisory and the notion that ”Gee Honey, we should really switch to Finlandia.” Here’s a news flash, Putin hates us, he probably doesn’t want us drinking his vodka anyway. In fact I imagine that most Russians are happy, or don’t care that the gays are no longer drinking Stoli. The majority don’t believe homosexuals should be accepted by society, and have a deep resentment towards the West in general. They don’t like us. So it’s great that this vodka boycott has brought widespread media attention to the human rights issue, and has stirred up debate about who owns Stoli and the relevance of boycotts, but I agree that it’s not really helping LGBTQ people in Russia in real political and legal terms. I applaud those who have initiated the boycotts, every little bit helps, but I am going to ask you to do a little bit more. We need to pressure government leaders in the West, and the IOC, to call on the Russian legislators to reverse all its recently introduced homophobic legislation.
In particular Alekseev and recommends literally embarrassing the Russian politicians responsible for introducing the “propaganda of homosexuality” laws by imposing visa bans restricting their travel. Elena Mizulina is the State Duma deputy responsible for the federal law banning gay propaganda to minors and the law banning foreign adoptions of Russian orphans by gays and lesbians, and Vitaly Milonov is St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly deputy responsible for the law banning gay propaganda to minors there. Alekseev is convinced that the international embarrassment of these travel bans will pressure lawmakers to rethink their positions. You can sign the American Petition here and the Canadian Petition here. Indeed almost immediately these petitions began causing the media storm Alekseev desired, but they are a long way from reaching their point of critical influence. Family friends and allies of all kinds, we need your support on these efforts, please take a few moments to make the world a safer place for everyone.
Over the weekend the debate changed focus from vodka, to boycotting the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. While I agree with the idea of a boycott in principle, I have never really been a fan of this proposal for two main reasons. Number one is the athletes. Of course the Olympics is a huge corporate machine fuelled with elitism, but I fail to see the justice in stripping the athletes of their right to compete in something that in some cases they have been training their whole lives for. They are not responsible for the human rights violations of the Russian government or the IOC’s failure to choose a suitable host for the games. Out LGBTQ American figure skater Johnny Wier has this to say about a boycott:
“To have a boycott would not only negate the career of some athletes who have only one chance at competing at the Games, but also the over-time shifts an exhausted father takes to make ends meet, or the social acclimatization of a brother who can’t go on spring break because his brother needed another costume, or the mother who works part-time at a job far beneath her, just so she can afford to watch her first born perform for the world. The Olympics are not a political statement, they are a place to let the world shine in peace and let them marvel at their youthful talents.
There isn’t a police officer or a government that, should I qualify, could keep me from competing at the Olympics. I respect the LGBT community full heartedly, but I implore the world not to boycott the Olympic Games because of Russia’s stance on LGBT rights or lack thereof. I beg the gay athletes not to forget their missions and fight for a chance to dazzle the world.”
Secondly, a boycott is simply highly unlikely because any country that boycotts the games is also permanently disqualified from all future Olympic games. The cost is simply too high for individual nations, and the outcome only further isolates Russian LGBTQ and could incite further violence against them for derailing the games, causing an international embarrassment the inevitable financial disaster that would follow. Other, more effective, solutions must be found and I was thrilled when I saw Alekseev’s announcement that he and his colleagues were planning Winter Pride Sochi 2014, on the same day as the opening ceremonies. This is real activism, sure to illuminate on an international stage, the injustices and violence faced by Russian LGBTQ people, and as Alekseev stated, “expose the hypocrisy of the International Olympic Committee which went into discriminatory agreements with the Russian regime.”
On Friday the IOC addressed the issue of safety for LGBTQ people attending the games.“The International Olympic Committee is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation. The Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes. The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games. This legislation has just been passed into law, and it remains to be seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly as regards the Games in Sochi. As a sporting organization, what we can do is to continue to work to ensure that the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media.”
Personally, I have no confidence in these assurances, and believe that it is inevitable that LGBTQ people will be verbally and physically assaulted at the games. Here are some important things to remember: the majority of the Russian population agree with Putin’s stance on gay rights. He has been cultivating a climate of hate against the queer community for years. Even if they aren’t prosecuted under the law, who will protect visitors from the citizens of Russia who believe it is their right and moral obligation to attack any expression of LGBTQ rights, including simply wearing a rainbow pin or publicly admitting one’s gender identity? I also believe there will be Russian extremists that will head to Sochi specifically to seek out LGBTQ foreigners and assault them. How does the IOC imagine it can ensure this won’t happen? Furthermore, how can they claim “it remains to be seen whether and how it (the legislation) will be implemented.” Alekseev has already been arrested, charged and fined under these laws. Pussy Riot, a Russian queer punk band, remains in prison, and a foreign documentary team has been arrested and deported. The IOC is either incredibly naive or intentionally misrepresenting seriousness of the situation, or both. Seriously, how can the IOC claim the games can take place without discrimination with these laws in place? It seems inevitable that the hypocrisy of the IOC will also be revealed at the expense of the LGBTQ community.
Just to make matters even more complicated, on Sunday another group of 23 Russian LGBTQ activists released a statement to Queer Nation in the USA, calling for a boycott of both Russian goods and the Sochi games. I applaud the efforts and moreover the courage of these individuals, particularly because even putting your signature to a document like this is sure to have unfortunate if not painful and life threatening repercussions. It will be interesting to see if they are all charged under the propaganda of homosexuality legislation. Whether you are pro-boycott or not, their central point is familiar, and difficult to oppose: we must be very vocal with our dissent of current state of LGBT rights in Russia, and all efforts to pressure governments and draw attention to these injustices are worthwhile.
So what am I suggesting should be done?
1. Sign the petitions to prohibit the international travel of homophobic Russian politicians Elena Mizulina and Vitaly Milonov.
2. Insist Sochi Winter Pride 2014 be permitted by Russian authorities and Support Gay Russia’s efforts to host the event by finding sponsors outside Russia that can contribute either financially or symbolically to its success.
3. Pressure your government to insist your national Olympic committee and the IOC, have these laws repealed before the Sochi 2014 games, or reschedule them elsewhere. This pressure should include trade sanctions against the Russian Federation.
4. Insist the IOC get a statement directly from Putin, or similar a government source, to the people of Russia that any violence against LGBTQ persons attending the games will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Sadly, I think a boycott, or re-locating of the games, is highly unlikely, however I am pleased to hear the suggestion they return to Vancouver, the previous host of the winter games. Unless the IOC is made abundantly aware of the real threat of violence LGBTQ people face in Russia, they will not prepare adequately for their protection. We must ensure that reports of the injustice and violence taking place in Russia remains in the mainstream media, and is impossible for the IOC to ignore. Re-post, be vocal, and do not accept empty assurances everything will be OK. I can tell you from experience that it is not safe to be LGBTQ in Russia. The games cannot be free from discrimination in this country at this time. The population of Russia needs firm guidance from its government that the safety and security of all people attending the games is required. Without violent actions against LGBTQ publicly criticized by Russian authorities, there will certainly be attacks against us. Even with such assurances I, and many Russian activists believe, they are, in fact, inevitable.
It is possible that in the coming months a crime too heinous to ignore could make the IOC rethink Sochi, but I doubt that will happen. I think the most we can hope for is the safety of athletes and visitors, and a peaceful Sochi Winter Pride that makes very public the injustice faced by Russia’s LGBTQ community and the hypocrisy of the IOC’s claim that it promotes these games free of discrimination.
One last thing – what the hell is the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights doing about this disgusting display of bigotry? Certainly not enough.
Oh, and Happy Pride Vancouver! Don’t forget, no one is free until everybody is free.
Watch the trailer for Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride