In-depth | LGBTIQ+

The Faces of EuroPride

By - 17.09.2022

Queer activists converge on Belgrade for a week of celebration.

Despite the government’s attempt to ban the Pride march, weeks of backlash and right-wing protests, the pan-European international LGBTQ+ event, EuroPride, is ultimately taking to the streets of Belgrade today. LGBTQ+ people and supporters from all around the world will join Serbian queer people, activists and allies in the Pride march Saturday afternoon. This is the first EuroPride to be hosted anywhere outside of the European Union.

Due to security reasons, organizers of EuroPride announced a new much shorter route for the walk, a mere few hundred meters long, replacing the original planned route that was supposed to wind its way through the city center. The EuroPride march now starts symbolically at the Constitutional Court before making its way to Tašmajdan Stadium, where a concert will be held.

While the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs repeatedly announced the Pride march was banned this year, organizers were insistent that they would continue with their plans. Midday on the day of the march, Prime Minister Ana Brnabić announced that the EuroPride march may go ahead and that the state would ensure the streets were safe.

K2.0 spoke with eight queer people from all over the world who participated in EuroPride week in Belgrade. They spoke about rising threats to LGBTQ+ people due to a rise in right-wing authoritarianism, as well as their movements of resistance and their victories in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. 

These are their words.

Ana Vujadinović

21 years old, lesbian

Pride volunteer, Serbia 

There is a lot of toxic masculinity and patriarchy in Serbia. We lesbians are most commonly seen as objects, to fool around with or to have something sexual with, and in my perspective they look at us like that from the moment we come out as lesbian. We don’t have an opinion, a face, nothing. To put it directly, people think we lesbians are disillusioned and that our orientation is only in our heads and that all of us in the end will become “real women,” mothers, heterosexual women. 

I am trying to explain over the years — after I came out — to people about lesbians, to pull people away from toxic patriarchy. Sometimes the people I speak to are challenged, and get pulled away from that prejudice. Lack of knowledge creates fear and fear creates hate. I am really glad over the years, there have been increasingly more women who identify as lesbian who are out and share their stories publicly. I am glad that I am part of that.

The protests against Pride mean that we need to fight more than ever, to go take the streets. I hope that people won’t be scared because there is so much false information that is being spread. There are rumors that people who participate in Pride will get fined, or that we will get arrested, and we hope that this won’t scare people away from joining the march. 

To right-wing people and the people in those religious processions [opposing Pride], it is particularly because of them that we need to go out today in the street, to demonstrate that we are here and visible, and we want our rights. We won’t allow somebody to take them from us. 

And EuroPride, having all these people from everywhere makes it even more important. It increases our visibility. But us being united isn’t important only for Serbia, but for all of Europe, which is not even close to respecting human rights, as it is often inhuman toward people, not just the LGBTQ+ community, but also others.

Lenny Emson

Bigender

KyivPride, Ukraine

The situation is now very difficult in Ukraine because the LGBTQ+ community is fighting for survival first of all, to stay alive, to escape dangerous zones, and on the other hand we are fighting to help the country, to help the community. Many people are volunteering, many are trying to survive economically as well because the situation is difficult for them, it is a very tough time. 

We are trying to reach out to all community members, who are active in the community, those who are not, to provide help, to provide monetary help, to provide food and medication, to organize shelter. Right now we are helping people to resocialize to have another profession, that would help them to earn money so they could survive in this time.

LGBTQ+ people are also Ukrainian citizens and many are joining the army, territorial defense units, to be able to participate in the protection of the country. And KyivPride as an organization has a few queer soldiers we are helping with supplies, medication, mobile phones, and anything they might need on the frontline.

For me it is important to be here and to represent Ukraine because we need to be visible, we need to be visible as a community that stays in Ukraine and needs support, needs a lot of support in terms of surviving at these times. And we need to call the LGBTQ+ community from all over the world to stay with us in solidarity. 

Dani Verastegui

40 year old, nonbinary

GAAT Foundation, Colombia

In Colombia, we have one of the most advanced achievements in terms of human rights for LGBTQ+ people in the region. In 1982 we started our Pride, and since then it has been 40 years of marching. We remember how in that march people would have masks on their faces and it was just 30 people marching. It was crazy. 

Now, last year there were more than 100,000 people marching just in Bogotá. In other cities they have marches as well, and now we have three different marches. Five years ago the transgender community and non-binary community felt that we weren’t represented in the main march and we decided to have a new march. It is clearly one of the most vulnerable populations in the whole world, and also in Colombia there are not many opportunities for transgender and non-binary people. So transgender women mainly work as sex workers, and it makes them more vulnerable to violence. 

And we have a third march because some people say the others are too white. So they are saying we are going to do our own march anti-racist, anti-colonial.

Same-sex adoption is recognized in Colombia, as well as same-sex marriage, and also now, after our advocacy we achieved the right to change our names and sex markers on our IDs.

I think all this change happened because of the movement, because of organizations and activists. We lived in a civil war for more than 50 years. We have been living in a war for all my generation and LGBTQ+ rights have been part of the war as well. And we were victims of war as well. 

So by defending and protecting our rights we changed our life, and this is an inspiration for the whole world. Just like it is empowering and inspiring seeing activists and people here who made changes in their countries. 

Mustafa

32 years old, queer

Civil Rights Defenders, Turkey

The whole world is going super-conservative, it is not not only Turkey. It is the whole world. The government we have was always conservative but until the coup, pride marches in Turkey were a huge deal. Some of the prides used to be one of the main marches in the region with over 100,000 people taking part. 

We always have been targeted but since after the coup we became one of the three main targeted groups: refugees, Kurds and the LGBTQ+ community. Now we are passing through hard times, and as queers we are always on the street protesting, even though we know that police will attack us. 

In 2015, the Istanbul Pride march was banned and now we have 16 different Pride committees in different parts of the country. If you try to put pressure, to oppress some community and minority they will find ways around it. We always find ways. We are super resistant, super protective of each other. We cannot go to the police, we cannot go to the court because the court will not take the side of who is right; they will take the side of who is with the government.

The rhetoric the government is using is similar to the one here in Serbia. Turkey is a country where majority is Muslim, and Serbia is Orthodox Cristian, but rhethoric in the Bible and Quran is the same religious books say same-sex relations and marriage is a sin. Every single night here in front of the Pride House, some priests come. The religions are different but the rhetoric, the wording and what they say, everything is the same. 

I was here last year as well. But this year it is amazingly important that the EuroPride is happening in Belgrade. Because it is the first time that EuroPride, this big event, is taking part in the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe. And this can give hope to other countries’ activists. 

Years ago, when they tried to organize the Pride in Belgrade, people were beaten. They got injured and had to go to hospitals. It took months to recover. And when you see now, it is a huge development. 

When we talk about LGBTQ+ rights and support we tend to think about Western European countries. We might have different struggles and different successes but EuroPride is not only for the Western countries. It is all of ours. 

Marya Alfa Stavgaard

30 years old, bisexual

Copenhagen Pride, Denmark

These days with activists from all over the world, the biggest similarity I see is really this concerning rise of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. Rights that we gained very recently are being challenged and questioned all over Europe and the world. 

In Denmark of course we have a lot of freedoms in the eyes of the law, but a lot of politicians use that idea that Denmark is progessive to actually hide the fact that in a lot of areas we are quite regressive, and quite a conservative country at the core of things. And that is something that needs to be continued to be challenged. I never thought that we would have to stand so firmly for the rights that we won recently. As we also see is the case in many of the countries that are currently facing a lot of backlash; it tends to be very much targeted towards the trans community but also people of color.

So there is this notion that we reached equality, we have equal rights. But the fact is that some queer people are protesting and saying, “I cannot access gender informed healthcare,” or “I don’t have equal rights to family life under the law.” Basically they are pointing out these issues, but then they are considered extremist by the right-wing. The rhetoric is very much that queer people want rights taken away from non-LGBTQ+ people. Which is completely misguided of course because there are enough rights for everybody. 

But there is an argument going around that a typical nuclear heteronormative Danish family is under threat in some way. A right wing party launched an anti-walk campaign recently with the slogan “It is ok to be normal.” Basically they are saying “You people are somehow limiting the rights of straight people.” 

A big reason to be here is that the Serbian LGBTQ+ community is showing such amazing bravery in the face of all of these challenges. Showing up and supporting them is immensely important. In the kind of climate we are currently in, what has been happening for the past weeks here, and also what is happening in other countries, us standing together is more important than ever.

Can Kortun

27 years old, queer

Istanbul Pride, Lambdaistanbul, Turkey

I work closely for animal rights and LGBTQ+ rights because I think they are connected. Violence comes in all shapes and forms, physical violence especially. And it should be talked about in a broader sense. And violence towards animals is very similar to violence towards women’s bodies and LGBTQ+ bodies. 

We had never witnessed so many arrests in Istanbul during pride as in these last years, and in the last ones we were met with incredible police violence, arrests of hundreds, who were further abused by the police. And every year we sue the government because they ban pride. It doesn’t work, it doesn’t make a difference, but we still do it. 

With the pandemic, people started to talk more about LGBTQ+ rights because everyone was home and the violence was getting worse. And we were closer to elections and Erdoğan was using the far-right to vilify us.

But we became more powerful. They are scared that a second coup might happen. They are scared that there is going to be another Gezi Park. Because we don’t have financial stability, the Turkish lira is worth nothing, we don’t have jobs, queer people cannot afford housing and are homeless. And we can’t get jobs because they don’t give jobs to us. Everyone is so tired. But we are getting new allies, particularly from different ethnic minority groups; Kurds always supported us but now also others are stepping in.

It is scary for younger people, for those who are coming out is really scary. For the ones who cannot come out is very scary. But for people who have been activists for a while this is nothing. We have been detained, we have been jailed because of “terrorism,” there are people that are still in jail. That is not gonna stop us. We believe in each other. 

Since I have been an activist for LGBTQ+ rights, pride in Istanbul has been banned. So it is going to be my first legal parade here. I am very excited to be part of a legal parade. Every time when I see the police here outside I get triggered that they are here to arrest me. This year around eight people of us from Istanbul Pride came. We came together in solidarity.

Hamza Nasri Jridi

29 years old, queer political activist

Intersection Association for Rights and Freedoms, Tunisia

In Tunisia same-sex relationships are criminalized. The penal code condemns people to three years of jail and even in some places people are banned also from their hometowns. 

Being an activist in Tunisa makes you a double target, doubly at risk, because being queer is criminalized and being a political activist is criminalized. In 2020 I was arrested for three days for protesting in front of the parliament. I have been accused of damaging the car of an MP. I was released after a national and international advocacy campaign. After two months I was arrested another time for participating in a demonstration, and then months later I was condemned to three months of jail. 

After being prosecuted and sentenced for three months, now I am in Stockholm living for a while and waiting for my appeal so I can go back to my country. This is what frontline defenders in Tunisia and frontline activists are facing, as the political situation in Tunisia is deteriorating, and queer people are increasingly being targeted. 

Before the revolution it was worse, but after we started to make some progress in terms of human rights and LGBTQ+ rights but unfortunately Tunisia went through a coup. The President took all the power and dissolved the parliament in 2021 and after this targeting of human rights defenders has increased. I was talking to some participants here at EuroPride and it is inspiring for me to be here because I come from a background of restrictions, bans, prosecution, and here I am meeting frontline activists from all over the world who make things happen. And that is inspiring as an Arabic person, with a Muslim background, being in such context.

I always insist that I am a queer political activist because I really believe the personal is political and that civil society organizations are doing a huge work, but now is the time for queer people to invade the political scene and invade the public scene, where we are used to only seeing cisheteronormative people and cisgender males.

It is very important to be a queer political activist. From what I have seen, for example from the feminist movement in Tunisia, civil society activists have done a lot, but after you go to parliament after you propose some new laws, after defending and advocating under the parliament, huge changes can happen. That’s why we queer people need to invade parliament, invade governments, to make the real change through political institutions.

Uroš Milutinović

19 years old, gay

Pride volunteer, Serbia

I started engaging in volunteering and human rights when I was quite young. We need to introduce people to such opportunities and educate them in that way as soon as possible and as young as possible. In Serbia we don’t have quite a developed system of volunteering or introduction to human rights. The first time I volunteered for the pride was last year.

My goal is at some point to manage to create a little pride parade in my hometown, Vrnjačka Banja. I think the key part to make young queer people comfortable with themselves is visibility and showing that we are here and we exist.

Last year I had the opportunity to do a study on the position of queer students in the municipality I grew up in, and as part of that I went back to my old school and we had a survey that we sent out for the students to fill in. We had a meeting with representatives of the school and local government. I was familiar with how bad the situation was because I had just graduated from that particular school, but I didn’t know that it was that bad.

I was working with national organizations, National Councils for Youth of Serbia and when we finally got the heads of school and representatives of the municipality to show up to a meeting they were prepared to attack us for our report that stated that 50% of people in the survey said they don’t feel safe, including both queer and not queer people. The representatives said that I was trying to ruin the reputation of my town and they implied that it could have serious consequences also for me. It was an eye opening experience as they essentially were screaming at me and calling me names. It was shocking to me how casual it was for them to just call me a faggot or something similar. Someone who is outside the community should never use those words.

The first pride in Belgrade was held a few months before I was born and it was the bloody pride and images of that pride haunt us all. That was my first introduction to what being gay means. We are not strangers to this kind of behavior, with right-wing groups opposing us, but this is the case also in countries such as Poland and Hungary. It is politicized. It is sensationalized. It is used to gain political points and divert attention from real issues. We are not strangers to this, we’ll fight this, we’ll come here and we’ll continue to do this.

The interviews have been lightly edited for clarity.

Photos: Igor Čoko / K2.0.