Fighting for the right to pride

Fearless freedom fighters have again this year put their own safety at risk in order to organize and carry out pride events around the globe. It goes without saying that waving the rainbow flag in countries where prejudice, oppression, hostility, violence and political instability are still a harsh reality takes a lot of courage. The fight is about basic human rights, acceptance, visibility, equality and the freedom to be who you are. In some areas the road is very long and full of danger, but that does not keep LGBT+ activists from stepping out and start walking.

Istanbul Pride Parade 2017 when the LGBT+  community marched despite the ban put forward by the Governor of Istanbul a few days before the parade was planned to take place.

Istanbul Pride Parade 2017 when the LGBT+ community marched despite the ban put forward by the Governor of Istanbul a few days before the parade was planned to take place.

Beirut Pride forcibly shut down
The second Beirut Pride Week – which was scheduled to take place from May 12 to May 20 – was brought to a halt just a few days into the celebrations following the detention of the organizer and founder Hadi Damien.
During one of the planned events, an Arabic reading of the French queer play Ogres, Lebanon’s censorship bureau interfered, ordering the reading to stop immediately and taking Hadi Damien to the police station where he was detained overnight. Damien was interrogated based on a fabricated Arabic version of the Beirut Pride Week Program which stipulated that the events were inducing debauchery and immorality. Despite proving that the Arabic version of the program obtained by the censorship bureau was strongly manipulated and misleading, the General Prosecutor of Beirut still decided that all events related to Beirut Pride Week were to be cancelled. Damien was released the following morning after signing a pledge acknowledging the verdict of the General Prosecutor. Subsequently Beirut Pride cancelled the rest of the planned activities and urged the LGBT+ community to refrain from acting against the decision for the sake of their own safety.
Interpride, the international association of pride organizers, condemned the clampdown, stating that “a peaceful celebration of diversity, organized by the local LGBTI community, should never be hindered.”
While article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code prohibits having sexual relations which “contradict the laws of nature” and violations are punishable by prison, the law is rarely enforced. In fact, recent years have seen positive changes both politically and in public opinions. Just last month, in July 2018, a Lebanese appeals court ruled that homosexuality is not a crime. This ruling was immediately celebrated by Lebanon’s leading LGBT advocacy group Helem.

First pride ever in Swaziland
On June 30 the very first pride took place in Eswatini, the nation formerly and more commonly known as Swaziland, and both organizers and participants describe the event as a massive success – despite the many severe threats that organizers were faced with.
Being a former British colony, the tiny kingdom of Eswatini in Southern Africa with a population of little less than 1.5 million people, still has laws criminalizing homosexuality – and a King who reportedly believes that gay people are colluding with Satan. Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini has called homosexuality “an abnormality and a sickness” and societal discrimination is widespread. This, however, did not hold back the joy and the success of the very first pride which attracted several hundreds of participants who marched in the capital Mbabane with rainbow flags and a big banner saying “Turn Hate Into Love”.
Eswatini Pride was organized by local nonprofit The Rock of Hope and supported by international advocacy organizations Human Rights Campaign as well as AllOut who assisted with funding for the event.

Protests during Kyiv Pride
The theme for this year’s Kyiv Pride, which took place in June in the Ukrainian capital, was visibility. Surveys show that many Ukrainians still refuse to acknowledge that LGBT people exist in the country. Around 5,000 people joined the march, defying the threats from ultra-nationalist groups, and according to the organizers around 2,500 police officers were in place to protect the parade-goers.
Despite the heavy police presence, a group af 150 far-right protesters showed up and attempted to disrupt the parade. The attempt was unsuccessful, however, since police forces were very quick to surround the anti-LGBT protesters. According to AFP, 56 protesters were detained and five police officers suffered injuries during the clash.
Earlier this year, in May, a meeting for LGBT activists in the region was to be held in Kyiv with participants from both Amnesty International, Kyiv Pride and Human Rights Watch. The event got cancelled when a group of far-right nationalists suddenly showed up, threatening with violence, and the authorities failed to intervene.

IDAHOBIT cancelled in Uganda
The Ugandan State Minister for Ethics and Integrity ordered the immediate cancellation of a planned event for the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) on May 17, just minutes before it was about to begin. The event, which was organized by SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda), had obtained all necessary permissions from the local authorities, but was still shut down with the reason that the gathering served the purpose of promoting homosexuality.
“We will not be intimidated. As members of Uganda’s LGBTI community, it is important to remain steadfast and resilient in the demand for the respect of our human rights and dignity, especially in the face of adversity”, said Dr. Frank Mugisha, Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda.
Uganda remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be LGBTQ, and violent attacks against LGBTQ people – also by state officials – are commonly performed.

Istanbul Pride banned once again
The Governor of Istanbul banned the Istanbul Pride Parade from taking place on July 1 for the fourth year in a row, but this year almost 1,000 people showed up to march despite the ban. The activists gathered around Taksim Square and Istiklal Avenue, where they were met by heavy police presence. After a short negotiation, LGBTQ activists were allowed to read out a press statement and unfold a large rainbow flag on the street Mis Sokak, before being ordered to immediately disperse.
Smaller groups of activists kept gathering in side streets, marching together when possible, trying to avoid the tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets that the Turkish riot police are quite keen on using.
“The Governor cited the excuse of security in its decision to ban the march, and in one word, this is comical. Our marches went on peacefully without being banned for 13 years”, said Istanbul Pride organizers in a statement.
Istanbul Pride has been celebrated since 2003, and in 2014 more than 100,000 people attended the march which went ahead peacefully and without disruption. In 2015 the Turkish police used water cannons and rubber pellets to disperse the parade, and this has been the case every year since then.

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