European Prides Diary: Czech PRIDE and Shame 3

>Clare Dimyon, who was recently given an honour for her work, sends us her impressions from her tour of the east-european prides (read part 1 here and part 2 here):

Sunday 27 June 2010 – 10:00

Wow! Even writing the date makes me tingle, 40 years since our first PRIDE parades, 41 years since the first resistance by LGBT people – all in my lifetime…just!

Up bright and early after a wonderfully deep sleep, the sun is shining and we are already bathed in heat. As “dobrovolnice” that’s volunteers…we have to be in the square for as soon after 10am as possible to help with the set up and the security. There’s one religious homophobe praying and trying to “protect” the statue of the Virgin Mary but since we are setting up the stage right next to it, I figure the dear lady has all the protection she needs but make a point of digging out the placards with the words of Jesus just to ward any foul homophobic spirits off us! Goodness me! Ordinary uniformed police are out in force even at this early hour. The outcome of Brno Queer Parade 2008 didn’t reflect too well on the Brno police so I anticipate they will be making every effort to demonstrate effective policing. Sadly that seems to involve closing down Freedom Square and the parade route but plenty of the members of the public are there already and they won’t be removed unless they commit a crime.

Late last night we heard that the lovely lesbian singer from Switzerland couldn’t come because her partner needed urgent and life critical surgery. She even sent an email filled with apology but where-else would we want her to be except at her partner’s bedside? This morning we heard of another couple who cancelled at the last minute due to serious health reasons, all a bit dispiriting for the organisers who are anyway in that awful moment of wondering if anyone will turn up! So we chat and help with preparing the stage and greet old friends as they arrive and McDonalds does a brisk trade with parade participants and robo-cops alike! They must be extraordinarily hot under all that gear. I am already baking in a tshirt.

The shop arrives and sets up and does a brisk trade in rainbow accoutrements and at 1pm prompt the speeches start with a welcome in the Brno dialect, which although my Czech is awful sounded just hilarious! Jiŕi Hromada, the veteran gay rights campaigner in the Czech Republic made a speech that was warmly received and so did Dzamila Stehlikova, the former Czech Minister for Human Rights and Minorities. Depressingly, this is a post the new right wing coalition has just abolished and it doesn’t seem like Czech L GBT people have much to hope for from the incoming government. The bizarre anomaly is that while there is legal provision for registered partnerships between two people of the same gender once you are registered partners you cannot adopt. Married heterosexuals can adopt and single lesbian and gay people can adopt but lesbian and gay people who are registered partners cannot. We had plenty of lovely music and some more speeches including from one of the organisers of the magnificent Dúhový PRIDE Bratislava, which took place only a month ago. Happily Brno and Bratislava are only a couple of hours apart.

Then for my speech which is much harder when you have to stop every couple of sentences to allow for translation, it’s quit hard to develop a “flow”. I tried to say a few words in Czech and some nice things about Brno and the Czech Republic and since some barmy (and very wonderful) Czech lesbian was holding up the Lesba Britskeho Imperia (Lesbian of the British Empire) in a mortifying way, I thought I’d better explain how unimaginable this idea was when I went on my first parade in London in 1985, 25 years ago. Anyhow, it seemed to go down well but it’s quite strange afterwards when everyone recognises you and you don’t recognise them and how they get to feel important because they think you are someone important. Well, whatever works!

So then a couple more speeches and greetings and we were off, flags and placards for a once round the centre of Brno…one man stopped me and asked me about my flags, I assumed he was friendly until I realised he was trying to SET FIRE to them with his cigarette lighter and the flags were only saved by the immediate presence of one of the unique Czech “anty-conflikt tym” – the anti-conflict team who shepherded him away but curiously didn’t arrest him, before my flags could catch fire. Off we went a little subdued at first but then the chanting got going and we waved our flags and had a great time. Then there was the obligatory smoke bomb, designed to make people fear tear gas I think but we soon realised it was a boring old smoke bomb and roared our disapproval and the robo-cops moved in to isolate the incident. Of course what we couldn’t see were the volumes of anti-protesters behind the barricades set up by police. I am caught between finding this depressing on the one hand and not wanting to give the too much attention as this is clearly what they want. It annoys me that after all the work of the PRIDE organisers who behave legally and non-violent, it is these gangs of thugs who get all the attention. I can’t help feeling that is exactly what they want.

We had our wonderful 40th birthday parade and returned to Freedom Square, where there were about three “God botherers” praying at the statue of Our Lady and were interfering in the interviews Czech television were trying to do with Jolana. They wanted us to move away from the statue as though we were in some way desecrating it and this really started getting on my nerves and it seemed a really bad idea to give into this because it was in some way accepting that we were a “desecration”. So I dug out my “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” and walked around the situation making sure the LGBT could see what the placard said. Sure enough smiles started breaking out and out came the cameras. Then I decided on a nice Quaker vigil standing by the statue, after all I am a religious person so of course I should be witnessing against religious inspired homophobia. One very persistent chap tried to move me to one side, I moved a little and explained sufficiently loudly for the police to hear, that I was a religious person and had a perfect right to stand with the Virgin Mary if I wanted to. The so called “religious” chap wasn’t happy about this and expected the cops to intervene which they…didn’t so I continue my Quaker vigil against homophobia. The words of Jesus desecrating a statue of the Virgin Mary, I don’t think so matey! Anyhow a few minutes they slunk away and told me I was a “shame” and I replied, “No sir, it is homophobic attitudes that shame the church.” Is this the same Catholic Church whose “morality” has involved the wholesale sexual abuse of children? They can talk to me about morality in about….400 years time!

And we gathered later that evening to party the night away. Sadly all the extra expense of the security to ensure people didnt get hurt has left the organisers out of pocket so efforts are under way to raise some cash to make sure they are not out of pocket.

Meanwhile all attention turns to Budapest whose opening Ceremony is next Sunday 4th July! (and a few people in the region will be going to Vienna for their PRIDE next Saturday but as for me it is time for a break to restore my energy levels ready for Budapest and then Warsaw.

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