Monday, June 27, 2011

Gay Pride Days from Zagreb to New York

I sit at our kitchen table in Melbourne, Australia, hugging the phone close to my ear. Two dear New York friends just arrived back at their Upper West Side apartment from the New York Gay Pride March and are pouring out to me the details of their joy- filled days beginning with the traditional Dyke March on Saturday night and then the all queer extravaganza on Sunday. I listened and remembered the early days--hundreds of us, standing in the rain one mid 1970s afternoon outside of New York's Town Hall, demanding that the gathered legislators pass Intro 22 or 23 or 24--giving gay New Yorkers some basic civil rights protection, year after year we stood, the hall, out side the hall, the activists from GAA, from GLF, from New York DOB, from LFL, from the bars, just folk from the old Firehouse on Wooster Street, veterans of other liberation struggles standing, marching, sitting in and out, kissing in unallowed places, dancing on the restrictions of old time vice squad raids, I see their old time faces, Morty, Jim, Vito, Bruce, Arnie, Ginny, Allan, Barbara, hundreds more--now for those who being able to marry is their heart's desire, at least in New York and a few other states, came this day of welcoming. For others, a sense that now we can concentrate on what it means for queers to be global citizens, one of many communities trying to ensure that food, shelter, water, medical care and educational richness, freedom of movement and dissent, freedom of the queer and women's body from limiting national norms--are on the international agendas of us all.

I have been getting messages all week about proud lesbians marching from a variety of places with some striking contrasts. As so many times before the conversation starts in a less safe place, with words of consternation and worry from my friend Lepa Mladjenovic, from Belgrade, a fervent lesbian and feminist activist..

Monday, June 6, 2011, 9:52 AM
Before sleep, I am thinking to write to you a thought of mine about the events in relation to genocide and M. He is all over the front pages with his horrible face, and I think of all the families who lost thousands and thousands killed by this man. In the nationalist papers, he is depicted as a "high family man," in poor health and many other emotional statements about him. It makes me nauseous. I can't stand it! I remember the famous Hannah Arendt who was following the process against Eichmann. She created the historical term, "the banality of evil." She was so right.

The second thought is that in the midst of this nationalism in the region, hope-driven activists are making Pride Parades. I was present at FOUR Pride Parades that were disastrous for all of us, due to the hate-driven nationalists who were ready to kill us all. And now, a few days before SplitPride, similar things are happening again. Hate graffiti is already all over the town, and yesterday one young woman anti-war activist in Split had urine poured all over her head and body by one of the nationalists. This is going to await us as well next Saturday.

I just think we should move on different kinds of manifestations. This place is not ready for PrideParade. So much fear in lesbians and gay activists. I have witnessed so much these years. So it is. But young people are coming and they decide on what to do. I must go there to be with them, where the fear is.

I am so happy that you two were in Belgrade.                                                    Lepa

Phone Texts:
12/06/2011: Oh, again, we started touched by the sun but soon a thousand nationalists hitting, shouting, screaming, "Kill, Kill" but we are all well and beautiful but exhausted
14/06/2011: Joan, I am back and feeling good and yes, one thousand men screaming in one voice, "Kill Kill Faggots" and "You Must Die"...It was frightful at times, but we got through to the end and it was good for our lesbian community. We were great together.
                    19/06/2011: From Hotel--News today. Zagreb Pride Capitol of Croatia; week after disaster in Split: total success! And a thousand activists, huge for us and NO violence! Super happy.
                    25/06/2011: 11:07--I heard the great joy in New York, we could all be there tonight


Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 7:42 AM

Dear Joan,
We are back from SPLIT PRIDE ANNO UNO.  You know, Split is a beautiful town on the most beautiful Adriatic sea in Croatia. Just like Serbia, Croatia was in the war, has had 20 years of militarism and militaristic values and as in many other places, the rise of the institutions of fundamentalist religion. On top of these two, there is the special role of football teams in the making of the wars in the nineties in the Balkans. Some of the warriors were to be recruited from these soccer clubs. The first war volunteers came from the football fan clubs, and they all in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina had one of the major roles in soldier making so at the present it is all the same. On the streets are either old soldiers who are still ready to kill which they did already once or young men from football fan clubs. In Belgrade it is the same and in Croatian Split, it is too.
I will write more about this, but I am just writing you some notes to make you understand what happened. For me, it was clear at one moment: 20 years of living with police and fascists, and for those first many years the police were on the side of fascists and now the same ones are supposedly protecting EU values. Get it if you can! Now all of Croatia is talking about it, and all the papers have discussions about it. And even more, next week is the 10th Pride March in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia! Soooo--they are one step into the EU (the European Union.) I send you two short youtube clicks, one that show the violence and the other that shows that we succeeded even if we had to make a shorter version of the program, with the lesbian chorus singing the antifascist Spanish song, "Aj Karmela" and me dancing in front of them, after the fear and the crying.

July 2, 2011
When we talked about SPILT Pride in our many discussion, we at first did not comment on the irony that those 2000 men were shouting, "Kill Kill Faggots," but where were those faggots? The parade was full of lesbians! There were a few gay men, but much fewer then lesbians--imagine, they wanted to be violent on men but the parade was full of Women, yes, yes
Look at the stage: three men who are all the time in the photos, one is from Belgrade, one from Montenegro and one from Split, that's it. My pink pants are behind the lesbian flag on the lift side. Nine women are in this photo. Behind us are these great banners: "Lesbians against Fascism" and "My Woman Partner is My Family."

Belgrade Buddies

I have shared these words and images with you because of the complexities of the happiness of these days and the fears. And even more, to document the courage of these lesbian and gay communities to link the dignity of their body's desires to the desire for a more just state, not just for the gay body but for a time when national flags do not mean armies. And because these bodies are precious to me, my dear friends from all our 'Regions.'

from the streets of New York, the LHA contingent, photo by Kathryn Kirk, June, 2011--35 years of marching

The Empire State Building in gay colors
NYC, 2011, photo by Paula Grant

NY, 2011, photo by Paula Grant

New York Gay Pride Scenes by Paula Grant, 2011

Gay Pride, Brazil, 2011

Closing Thoughts on These LGTBI Days

No longer do we march in the streets with just our own agenda--civil respect for our desires and our lives-- but it has become clear, at least in New York, in Tel Aviv, in Belgrade, in Zagreb, that we are carrying national aspirations as well. In New York, wealthy gay Republicans poured money and promises into the future campaigns of conservative Republican candidates if only they would deliver this moment and they did. What has been bargained away? What have we exchanged for this vote? What other conservative agendas will we have empowered by this transaction for surely that is what it was. I have my own fears that do not allow me to feel a life time of organizing has reached its best moment. I worry about the fate of the Palestinians, gay and and straight, if this support includes giving more power to those who refuse to hold Israel accountable, who see being a so-called American friend of Israel, as never questioning the forces of occupation. Sometimes on our banners are written invisible messages: the huge banner of the Tel Aviv gay pride march had the non seen words, no Palestinian queers from Gaza welcomed --because any who tried would be stopped at the policed borders. I worry about the future of our own national agendas for social care like medial care if we now have tipped the scales even more in favor of right wing politicians. Will marriage put food on the table or keep the libraries open or say no to endless wars? What was our bargain exactly--money, lots of it from affluent gay men, buying our trip to the altar. What have we exchanged? In other countries, promised entry into the European Union kept marchers a little safer this year. Now we are in the big mix of things, where some places in America at least, dollars buy respect for some of us. Bargaining chips in all the rainbow colors.

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