These are without a doubt the most extraordinary circumstances for Pride since parades spread across the globe in the 1970s. For a community that built its political platform through the struggle on the streets and that claimed the streets as a space for celebration, their emptiness forces us into a moment of introspection and reflection.
Community has a special meaning for queer people. Since not all families (friends/colleagues/employers/governments) support our identities, reaching out for an inclusive group “out there” is essential in the process of (re-)claiming identity and existence in the public space. Having this taken away, as we are locked inside our homes, many of us have realised the importance of surrounding ourselves with queer people and allies alike. The distance from our chosen families forces us to pause and reflect on the persistence and renewal of discrimination, even in times where LGBTIQ+ politics and culture appear to be thriving – at least in the institutional discourses in many countries and organisations in some parts of the world. Furthermore, the shared repertoire of action of early queer militants with Black Lives Matter in the United States, an unprecedented moment of popular mobilisation in our lifetime, prompts us to question the meaning of our pride in a moment in which so many members of our and other more marginalised communities are under attack.
Pride marches began one year after the Stonewall riot on June 28, 1969, when queer clients at the Stonewall Inn bar flooded the streets of New York against the police raid that intended to close the bar, one of the few that allowed openly queer people. This sheds light on the importance of political activism for the present recognition of basic rights for LGBTIQ+ people. The engagement of the early activists, mostly black and transgender, should inspire queer activists and allies all around the globe. The celebratory spirit of pride should not be an excuse not to protest, or not to demand equality of rights and opportunities against the persisting, overarching sexist and patriarchal structure, which is far from coming undone. Rather, this spirit should motivate us to persist in the political battle for social justice in all its dimensions.
While Pride is an important celebration of queer identities and people, it is equally important as a protest to challenge the oppression these identities and people still
In Switzerland, 2020 might become one key moment for the advancement of “lgb” rights in light of the victory of the plebiscite for the criminalisation of homophobia and the vote on same-sex marriage. While this should certainly be celebrated, the exclusion of the transgender and non-binary community as beneficiaries of those policies, and their long time coming, should also make us reflect on the bigger picture. Furthermore, the rise of openly anti-queer (as well as sexist, racist, anti-semitic, and islamophobic) political forces throughout the world – including in Europe and North America, where many wrongly thought this to be inconceivable – has not been met with the appropriate institutional resistance.
Anti-queer legislation has been recently proposed in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. The ILGA-Europe has published its Index and Map with an alarming conclusion: it’s a make-or-break moment for LGBTI equality. Just looking at Europe, several cases illustrate the rise of such infamous policies and discourses. Campaigning for reelection, the current president of Poland has proposed a ban on LGBT rights to marry and adopt. Likewise, his opponent is against the adoption of children by parents of the same sex, as he stated in his last remark, after promising to ban LGBT teaching in schools. In Hungary, Viktor Orban has already made it impossible for transgender people to have their names corrected in official documents, in an attempt to deny their gender identities.
Furthermore, queer communities are constantly under attack in the political discourse. When they are not directly targets of hate and verbal violence, their oppression is systematically erased through various narratives aimed at obscuring the differentials of power entailed in a patriarchal society. In a way that is common to several other forms of institutional discrimination, those who benefit from the social marginalisation of other groups are quite keen to reduce it to individual disrespectful behaviours. In the political and public discourse, similar narratives are not just erroneous, but contribute to the reproduction of systemic oppression and violence.
For instance, the long-lived myth of the protection of the heteronormative family is still a powerful tool of mobilisation when some rights are introduced in national legislation. In Italy, it was recently used by the leader of the Lega Nord, Matteo Salvini, who, in order to delegitimise the proposition of an anti-homophobia bill, reiterated the necessity of legislation against ‘eterophobia’ and for the defense of the ‘Christian family’. Unsubstantiated prejudices still define the boundaries of legislation along the lines of sexual orientation, as testified, for instance, by the unattainable (non-scientific) conditions for homosexual men to donate blood in most European countries (like Switzerland) and the politicisation of the debate around any attempt to change the status quo (as in France).
In addition, the high rates of violence against transgender people are absolutely outrageous. A group that faces profound social marginalization, transgender people have been left aside by many gains in rights even by gay, lesbians, and bisexuals. The exclusion from positions of power and privilege and their marginalization into the streets or left for jobs unwanted by other people have just increased under COVID-19 crisis, as hate crimes have peaked. That is exemplified by the high rates of homicide committed against them. Nine transgender people were killed in Europe in 2019, according to a report issued by Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide. The rate of harassment and verbal violence among transgender people is also the highest among other groups of the Queer umbrella.
In more subtle ways, cisheteronormativity still lingers as an existential challenge to queer people everywhere they go. Every coming out we have to go through when we move to different places, being under the scrutiny of how we behave or even being taken as a token for some straight friends, those are all social structures of behavior that queer people have to get used to in detriment of our mental health.
This is a month of pride for the queer community: pride in our identities and in the progressive achievements borne of the struggles those before us endured. But it remains a month in the representation of a fight because our community is still under attack.
Mainstreaming our pride cannot hide complacency with homophobia and cisheteronormativity. We must not oversimplify the historical fight of LGBTIQ+ activists for our rights and recognition in light of recent progress. The fight for LGBTIQ+ rights is ongoing and requires persistence and conscious action.
What is your role?
This piece is an adaptation for The Graduate Press of a shorter text written by Matheus Ferreira Gois Fontes (1st-year Master’s student in International Law) and Massimiliano Masini (1st-year Master’s student in Development Studies) and published for QISA on the Graduate Institute website and in the internal newsletter. Kevin Lehne contributed to its adaptation for Feminist Voices.
Feminist Voices is a fortnightly column curated for the Graduate Press by the Feminist Collective in collaboration with QISA. It aims to be an open and eclectic forum of discussion on issues concerning institutional and lived inequalities due to hierarchical power relations amongst people of different sex, gender and sexual orientation, regardless of whether they identify monolithically with their perceived categories. Why is it necessary? Well, give a look at our first article. If you want to write a piece, to be part of the Collective, to give us feedback or to just say hello, reach out to us on our Facebook page and group, Instagram, or by email
14 August 2020, 12:08: This piece has been edited to reflect the correct use of the term “transgender” in English.