BY DOUG IRELAND | Gay Pride events worldwide during the week ending June 29 were marked with violent attacks by right-wing thugs in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, while in Hungary a gay bar was firebombed; the Cuban government's break-up of Havana's first-ever attempt to hold a pride march; the largest-ever pride march in France, where 700,000 crowded Paris; the first-ever pride march in New Delhi, India; and a rain-soaked event in Berlin where the honored guest was a 95-year-old man thought to be perhaps the only living survivor of the Nazis' gay holocaust.
The effort to hold Cuba's first-ever gay pride march at the fittingly-named Don Quixote Park in Havana last Thursday was canceled minutes before it was to begin after two of the key organizers were arrested by Castro regime police. One of the jailed organizers was 31-year-old psychology student Aliomar Janjaque, president of the Fondation LGTB Reinaldo Arenas in Memoriam, named in honor of the late Cuban gay writer who emigrated to America during the 1980 Mariel boatlift.
Paris posts largest crowd ever; Havana shut down; thugs mar E. Europe.
Janjaque told a reporter for the McClatchy newspapers that when he left the home of an activist to attend the march, he was detained, taken to his home, and placed under house arrest.
“They told me I had to go home,” Janjaque said, adding, “They escorted me to my door. From what I see, state security has succeeded in intimidating the organizers of the event.”
The other pride march organizer arrested was said to be the president of the Cuban League Against AIDS, but no name was given.
The two arrested activists were to have delivered a set of demands to the Ministry of Justice which included a review of the cases of those gays and lesbians currently imprisoned under a “Dangerous Index” law enforcement policy; the liberation of Jordanys Tamayo Aldama, a man serving a seven-year prison sentence for having called Fidel Castro a “homophobe”; an official acknowledgement that gays and lesbians are discriminated against in the workplace; and better treatment for people with HIV/AIDS, including those in prison.
The march was organized by Cuban gay groups in cooperation with the Miami-based Unity Coalition of exiled Cuban gays.
The Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENEX) was not involved in the pride march, and when asked had no comment on the arrests. CENEX, which has been lobbying for legal protections for gays and for marriage equality for same-sex couples, is headed by Mariela Castro, President Raul Castro's daughter. That group had organized a series of events around the International Day Against Homophobia on May 17, including a first-ever public meeting of 200 Cuban gays addressed by the country's National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon. (For more on the May CENEX events see this author's article, “France Fights for Decriminalization,” May 22-28, 2008.)
“Mariela Castro's work is good and valid and we're not criticizing it,” said Janjaque, “but we believe they should do more.”
The first-ever Czech pride march on June 28 in the country's second-largest city, Brno, was attacked by an organized gang of some 150 right-wing extremists, who assaulted the 500 marchers with rocks, fireworks, and tear gas, injuring 20 and forcing a 20-minute halt in the march, according to Agence France-Presse.
Neo-fascist and xenophobic groups like the National Party and National Resurrection had earlier in the week seen their applications for permits for a counter-gay demonstration refused by Brno authorities. In reaction to right-wing calls via Internet for “resistance” to the pride parade, 200 police were on hand to protect the gay contingent and keep order. Fifteen of the anti-gay demonstrators were jailed, said AFP. Among the official supporters of the pride march were Czech Minister of Human Rights Dzamila Stehlikova and tennis star Martina Navratilova.
The capital city of Sofia was the scene of Bulgaria's first-ever pride march by about 150 participants, who were attacked with Molotov cocktails, stones, and bottles by neo-fascist thugs, 60 of whom were arrested, said the Bulgarian news agency Novite. There were nearly as many police present as there were pride marchers.
Among those arrested was Boyan Rasate, head of the Bulgarian National Union, who was accused of personally taking part in the anti-gay violence. Rasate and the BNU had spearheaded a weeklong campaign against the march, plastering posters all over Sofia reading, “Be Intolerant, Be Normal.”
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church also protested the open demonstration of homosexuality and called the parade “a scandalous and wicked gathering.” Bulgaria's grand mufti who speaks for the country's Muslim population issued a special statement denouncing homosexuality.
The pride march was organized by Gemini, Bulgaria's national LGBT organization, and its official slogan was “My Family – We Are Mothers and Daughters, Fathers and Sons, Brothers and Sisters.” Many marchers sported T-shirts with slogans like, “The Communists Kiss at Official Meetings” and “Beware of whom you hate, it might be someone you love.”
As gay activists prepared a weeklong pride festival to culminate in a July 5 march in Budapest, a well-known gay bar in the Hungarian capital was firebombed in the early morning hours of June 26. A phone call to the bar, called Action, asking how many people were in it and what time it closed, warned that the bar should be evacuated, so no one was injured when the explosion occurred.
Gay activists said the bombing could be the work of a group who use the website http://kuruc.info/. Described as “an extremist nationalist hate site targeted against gay people, liberals, Jewish people,” the site regularly posts detailed information about gay activists, including phone numbers and addresses. “This site, although Hungarian, is hosted in a US server, so there is nothing we can do to stop them,” a Hungarian activist from Budapest told Pink News (http://www.PinkNews.co.uk).
“Yesterday this site put out an address list of all the gay bars in Budapest, the first in the list being Action. Later that night, it was set on fire,” said the gay activist.
A coalition of gay, lesbian, and youth organizations and publications issued a statement saying that “this attempted murder is the result of a hate campaign that certain right-wing groups, the Catholic Church, and conservative politicians have been conducting against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people and the LGBT festival in the past few weeks.”
The coalition's statement also criticized police for downplaying the bombing as “vandalism.” “Vandalism is when you spray paint on a wall,” said Gabor Kuszing of Patent, one of the signatory organizations, adding: “We are afraid that the police will not investigate the case with due diligence, and this is a message that serious crimes against gay people will not be tolerated,” UK Gay News reported.
This year's Budapest pride march had twice been canceled on orders of the city's police chief, but permission was finally reinstated two weeks ago following vigorous protests against the ban from members of the European Parliament's multiparty Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights and from Budapest Mayor Gabor Demsky, a veteran of the democratic dissident movement during the Soviet era.
Last year, ultra-right counter-demonstrators attacked the pride march with eggs, bottles, and Molotov cocktails, and 11 persons were injured in queer-bashings during the evening following the march. (For more information on last year's march in Budapest, see this reporter's article June 12-18, 2007 article Fascists Attack Budapest Pride.”
After Gay City News went to press, word came of a second firebombing, this time of Magnum, a gay sauna, attacked in the early morning hours of July 2. Just as in the bombing of the gay bar, a phone call preceded the attack warning the sauna to evacuate patrons, but one man was injured. With two attacks on gay venues already this week, Budapest's gay activists are worried that nationalist and fascist elements are planning yet more violence during pride week, and the chief of police has said he expects attempts to disrupt the July 5 Pride march.
Some 80,000 marchers braved a driving rainstorm to participate in this year's Berlin pride march on June 28. The march began in East Berlin and made its way along the boulevard Unter den Linden to the Victory column in West Berlin.
The event was dedicated to highlighting the continuing violence directed against gays and lesbians, and began with a memorial tribute to the many victims of the Nazi regime's persecution of homosexuals between 1933 and 1945.
The honored guest this year was 95-year-old Rudolf Brazda, the last known living survivor among the tens of thousands of gays the Nazis sent to concentration camps because they were homosexual. Brazda suffered incarceration in the Buchenwald concentration camp from 1941 to 1945.
Brazda told reporters, “Before we constantly had to hide, we were considered abnormal. But thank God, today we are free. There is nothing better than democracy,” Deutsche Welle reported.
At the conclusion of the pride events, Brzda became the first survivor of the Nazis' anti-gay holocaust to visit Berlin's official memorial to the regime's homosexual victims. The monument was opened in May, and in a speech at its unveiling the German culture minister, Bernd Neumann, deplored the fact that, because of its having been delayed for so long, there was no living survivor to attend the ceremony.
After learning through media reports about the opening of the monument, Brazda got in touch with the German Gay and Lesbian Federation (LSVD). Born in the Sudetenland, that portion of the former Czechoslovakia where ethnic Germans comprised the majority, Brazda, whose story has been authenticated by LSVD, moved to France after surviving his incarceration at Buchenwald.
Alexander Zinn, spokesman for LSVD, thinks the Brazda might not be the only survivor still alive.
“No one has invested the time and money required to try and find survivors,” he declared. ” We only know about those who have spoken out.”
Zinn, who met Brazda two weeks ago, also explained that the man had lived for 35 years in France with his companion until his partner's death, six years ago.
In recognition of the suffering of gays at the hands of the Nazis, gay activists in San Francisco, for the 13th year in a row, held a ceremony on June 29 to drape a gigantic Pink Triangle on the city's misty Twin Peaks. The Pink Triangle was analogous to the Yellow Star of David; it was the symbol the Nazis forced gays in the concentration camps to wear to label them as homosexuals, and thus target them for especially brutal treatment at the hands of guards.
The San Francisco Pink Triangle event was attended by a bevy of elected officials and by Germany's openly gay consul in the city, Rolf Schütte. Noting that Berlin now has an openly gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit, Schütte told the crowd, “This event should tell the world that the past must not be forgotten, but that also change is possible.”
Schütte brought his husband to the ceremony, and the two men stood side by side and held up their hands to display their wedding rings in celebration of the California Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage.
India's first nationally coordinated pride marches took place on June 29 in three major cities. In the eastern metropolis of Kolkata, 400 marchers walked two-and-a-half miles through the center city bearing placards demanding rights and recognition. The first pride march there was a tiny event of a dozen people in 1999.
In the southern technology hub of Bangalore, many of the 600 participants in the pride march wore masks to conceal their faces, since homosexuality is still illegal in India under a 19th century statute inherited from British colonial rule that bans “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” That statute can result in a ten-year prison sentence for sodomy.
In the capital of New Delhi, its first-ever pride march drew some 300 participants, many of whom also wore masks through the center of the city. One young gay student who marched with a mask told Agence France-Presse, “I'm wearing a mask because of several reasons – social pressure, the reservations of my friends, family. The prejudices of society are as strong as ever, and if I were to uncover my face my parents would have to take the heat.”
March organizer Pramada Menon told AFP she was overwhelmed by the public's response to the march. “This is one of the very, very few occasions when we have not been booed or been cursed at,” she said.
She added, “Though the perception is changing, it still remains an upper-class phenomenon. Those who are poor are still killing themselves because of abnormalities that they and they families cannot understand or cope with.
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog at DIRELAND