Growing global Pride and the journey of a social activist
By Kash Quinney
Three hours before I was about to jump on a night train out of Tbilisi, Georgia, I received a text from one of the Tbilisi Pride organizers. “Be in front of the ministry of interior affairs in 30 minutes” it read. I turned tail and bolted back to my accommodation where I had been staying for the past two months, grabbed my camera, jumped into a taxi, and raced over. This was part of my travels in 2019. I had been staying in Georgia since May. Not only because I had fallen in love with the people and the country, but because I had caught wind of one of the most impressive movements I had ever come across.
The march of dignity
On the 17th of May 2013, Tbilisi held its first sanctioned anti-homophobia demonstration. Dozens of activists took to the streets where they were met by thousands of protesters opposing homosexuality, led by priests of the orthodox church. For the Global North, the 17th of May is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, however, on this day, the LGBTI+ activists were met with violence and bloodshed. As I arrived at the ministry of interior affairs, I joined the small group of activists. We held the large rainbow flag high and stood our ground as we talked to the media. The march of dignity, as my Georgian friends called it, was successful. We were small in numbers, however despite all threats and obstacles, six years after that first demonstration, Tbilisi held its first Pride.
This group of organizers, their resolution, dedication, and strength, have inspired me immensely on my journey. My determination to begin spreading the word and spotlighting these smaller Pride organizations began in Georgia.
Joy and fear
I have been traveling and hitchhiking all over the world since 2015 as an openly queer and transgender man. From Australia to Central America, Europe, Russia, and Asia I have experienced Queer bliss, joy, and ecstasy whilst also knowing the fear of when to hide in the shadows, pretending to be someone I am not. This fear has driven me even when I was not in danger, like a hardwired reaction in my brain and body that tells me I am something vulnerable, and society will react aggressively if they find out who I am. Fear that I think a lot of our community can relate to, and far too many have to live with daily.
Throughout my journey, I have focused my attention on being present at Pride events where I met the local community, absorbing the overall atmosphere, questioning, rejoicing, and becoming involved to various degrees. In Guatemala, I felt the joy of the dance, the celebration, and the heartbeat of our community. In France, I spoke to the young people who were yet to discover who they were, however at Pride they had the option to exist. In London I felt the power we could wield; in Copenhagen I felt our absolute need and talent for celebration. Copenhagen Pride 2017 was one of many that summer. As I walked within the festivities, I was suddenly filled with a sense of kinship and belonging which I hadn’t felt within a Pride celebration before. These feelings of inclusion and acceptance can be something difficult to come by as a Queer, made more difficult by living on the fringes of society as I do and often sleeping wild. This approach to life has allowed me to feel deeply, to know the extremities of our euphoria whilst also having a brief glimpse into the constant battle of how daunting and dangerous it can be to live authentically.
As a platform, WorldPride holds immense power, like raising a megaphone across the world, our voices can impact mindsets we have never reached before, and we can use this tool to elevate the platforms of those still struggling.
As I submerged myself within the Queer activist community from the Balkans, Georgia, and Egypt, I met this immense group of people who told such strong stories filled with courage and focus, however some stories also told a tale of exhaustion and desperation for change. As I watch countries like the UK regressing on their basic human rights for trans people, I understand this despair to a tiny degree. It is an unrelenting fight and therefore it is so important to come together as a global community, to celebrate and hold our spirits high, putting in all our effort for those small organizations who are still trying to establish their very existence. I consider myself a social activist, (never having been one for a political mindset), and I pay the closest attention to how I am perceived according to the actions and reactions of different cultures when it comes to my queerness. My learning becomes more profound as I hitchhike, staying with local people, and immersing myself within each culture. I found out how easy it was to exist as a cis-gendered man in Turkey, how men would stand in my defense if someone were to misgender me. This had a certain irony to it as I lost some of my queerness in the face of this comfort. This, and other observations, arise from my connection with different aspects of cultures filled with history, religion, and beauty on so many levels, however, there has always been an undertone of darkness, no matter which country I have been in. Hitchhiking through France, the UK, and other areas of Europe, I have received the most arrogant approaches and the most uneducated stances. My experiences on the road exemplify how it is not only politics and legislation we have to look at but also society’s ideals and norms. Legislation and politics aside, how does global equality look when we talk about society and focus solely on the social aspects? With such a strong stigma that surrounds LGBTI+ persons in other countries such as those in Eastern Asia, can we achieve a discrimination-free society in ours? Just as whilst racism exists anywhere, it is never truly eradicated. I attribute major importance to events such as Global Pride and WorldPride because we have this powerful moment of celebration and sharing that can be used as a tool to create pivotal change throughout the world. This happens both politically as we place more pressure on governments, but also socially as we stand in solidarity, with strength and encouragement and aid for those who are fighting hardest.
Looking at some of the world’s most established Pride associations online, we can see how much remarkable change they have achieved, the plans for future Pride events, and the impact they have had. I admire and respect all Pride movements and yet there will always be a part of me that will push for more. Despite our grand mission statements for ‘world equality’ and ‘an equal life for all people’, I see a very small focus on the world as a whole. Networking is an essential part of any activist field, especially the LGBTI+ rights movement. We find community, friendship, solidarity, advice, and strength. There is a power within those connections as we find someone to turn to, learn from the journeys of other activists, other countries, and support each other in our fight for equality.
That train in Georgia has since taken me back through Europe, teaching me more about who I am becoming on this crazy journey of queer life, the diversity within us all, and what the next steps might be to creating a future in which we support each other as an active global community.
This is the meaning of WorldPride to me; an opportunity to connect with the world around us, a rock that reminds me that we are all still fighting together. It’s the feeling that I am not alone as I stand with my thumb outstretched by the side of the motorway, and the opportunity to fight for meaningful and worldwide change by lifting unheard voices. It is an opportunity for beautiful and heartfelt connection, and it is a voice of the world, including all countries and states, (regardless of the legislation in place) that says ‘we are here, we are vital, we are beautiful’. It can be something as small as an outstretched hand, a car that pulls over for me on a rainy day, an ally we never realized existed that makes us remember why we keep fighting for the right to live our existence.
I often think back on our past, our history of activists who were so strong in their visibility, playing an important role in my ability to live this life, and I ask myself what can I do to create a better life for a future version of me? Currently, I am a long-term volunteer for Malmö Pride as we work towards WorldPride 2021. It fills me with pride to celebrate how far we have come, and I am poised to listen and learn from those who need us now.