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28 June 2010, 2:00 pm No Comments

Global Gaze: A Pride Divided in Berlin

This post was submitted by John "Jolly" Bavoso

For an annual event meant to be a celebration of solidarity, more often than not Pride has a funny way of becoming a rainbow-colored stage upon which many of the most divisive issues plaguing the international LGBT community play themselves out in a typically dramatic fashion.

One perennial debate surrounding Pride is over the nature of the festivities themselves – should Pride be a debauched celebration or somber opportunity for advancing LGBT rights? Something in between? Both? If it is to be used as an opportunity for activism, should this activism be limited to gay rights alone or incorporate other Progressive issues, such as immigration reform? And then there’s the question of inclusion itself. The persistent criticism in the US that the modern LGBT community is completely dominated by affluent Caucasian men has spawned events such as Trans Pride, Black and Latino Pride and special events just for queer women. While some find these specialized celebrations empowering, others feel that they’re unnecessary divisive.

Rarely are all of these ongoing debates so overtly put on display as they were last week at Berlin’s 2010 Pride festivities. The controversy surrounded Judith Butler, an American academic and activist who most people who’ve taken an introductory class in gender and/or queer studies should have at least heard of, publicly rejecting an award for civil courage at the Christopher Street Day parade on June 19th. While the German press has emphasized her motivation for turning down the award being that Pride has become too commercial and superficial, her words reveal another objection.

A press release by the German organization SUSPECT, which calls itself “a new group of queer and trans migrants, Black people, people of colour and allies,” which aims “to monitor the effects of hate crimes debates and to build communities which are free from violence in all its interpersonal and institutional forms,” opens by framing the event thusly:

As Berlin Queer and Trans Activists of Colour and Allies we welcome Judith Butler’s decision to turn down the Zivilcourage Prize awarded by Berlin Pride. We are delighted that a renowned theorist has used her celebrity status to honour queer of colour critiques against racism, war, borders, police violence and apartheid.

You can see her whole speech in the video below, in which she says (according to the translation provided – I don’t speak German myself so I cannot speak for its accuracy):

Some of the organizers expressed themselves [to be] explicitly racist, or didn’t distance themselves from such expressions. The hosting organizations reject to understand anti-racist policies as [an] integral part of their work. In this sense, I have to distance myself from this complicity, including anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim racism.

She goes on to say that LGBT people have been used by European governments in the pursuit of nationalistic and militaristic ends, convincing queer individuals that they are protecting our freedoms by waging wars in the Muslim world and passing anti-immigrant policies. She then passed the award along to groups like GLADT, LesMigraS, SUSPECT and ReachOut. The event’s organizer then takes to the stage to deny the allegations of racism and tells those cheering Butler on that they are not the majority and should stop screaming.

Germany obviously has a complex and dark history with racism and exclusion. It’s striking, however, to hear an event such as Pride, which historically has considered itself/had been considered by others to be a fringe or anti-establishment celebration, be accused of being a co-opted extension of the government, and to witness its organizers discount naysayers because they’re in the minority. While this was an event that was specific to Germany, it should certainly serve as a catalyst for self-reflection by queer communities all around the world this Pride month.

So, do you agree with Butler that Pride in some cases has been co-opted and come to represent something different than it was originally intended? Do her remarks about racism and exclusion and the queer community apply here in the US? Do you approve of the way in which she aired her grievances? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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