Progress to take Pride in
I and other Amnesty activists have just come back from the Latvian capital Riga after the most exhilarating of EuroPride weekends.
We can all confirm, as the slogan for EuroPride had it, "Changing history is hot".
It’s a history that my LGBTI Network colleague Ferran Nogueroles wrote about earlier this month – outlining his and Amnesty's support of prides in the Baltic countries, which often go ahead in the face of extreme opposition.
EuroPride 2015 in Riga had about 5000 participants. There were about 40 protestors, and one egg thrown (I heard a report of three arrests). But for the most of our 2.2km march outside the park, along some of Riga's main streets, there was no need for barriers between us and the spectators and passers-by.
I would say that around 50% of the spectators, spanning all age ranges and genders, were happy or very happy to see the march, taking photos and sometimes jigging to the music. Perhaps 40% were indifferent, and only 10% or less showed signs of displeasure.
What a difference a decade makes
This is an incredible turnaround. At the first pride in Riga in 2005 there were about 70 participants and 2000 protestors. The first year I attended in 2007, participants had to be bussed to remote locations around the city after the parade so that potentially violent protestors couldn't find them. Read a history of Pride in the Baltics
The intervening years have seen the number of participants getting larger, and the number of protestors getting smaller. Mozaika, the Latvian LGBT organisation, teamed up with organisations in Lithuania and Estonia to create Baltic Pride, which rotates around the three countries' capital cities.
Baltic Prides in Vilnius in Lithuania in 2010 and 2013 were particularly harrowing, with uncertainty until the last minute over the route of the parade and even whether it could go ahead at all, and with a homophobic Lithuanian MP being carried away by police after trying to attack the parade.
Pride is a human right
Why are Pride parades a matter of Amnesty's concern? Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear: "Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association". People assemble for all kinds of reasons - to celebrate a family event, to watch a football match, to attend a place of worship or to enjoy entertainment, or to protest against (just occasionally in support of) a government policy.
A pride march and festival falls well within the definition of "peaceful assembly. It is a right for LGBTI organisations and their supporters as much as to football team fans or religious congregations or audiences for concerts. And the granting (actually recognition) of a right to assembly needs to be accompanied by ensuring that the participants are safe from attack by those who would interfere with the right.
Powerful activism, a reason to celebrate
I can't congratulate Mozaika enough on holding this event. The leaders of the organisation, Kaspars Zalitis and Kristine Garina, have become personal friends over the years of activism, but the work of all the other volunteers must be remembered as well. Thank you so much. And thank you to all the Amnesty activists who have come over the years to support these parades. We have changed history - and it is hot.
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