DOES GAY PRIDE MATTER?
In a stirring essay, New Yorkbased photographer Slava Mogutin explains why it’s time to go back out onto the streets and fight for lesbian and gay rights
When I first arrived in New York nearly 20 years ago, one of the most vivid impressions of my new home city was the first Gay Pride parade I saw. Being exiled from a homophobic country for being openly gay and speaking out on gay issues, to see such a massive and festive demonstration of freedom and unity was a total revelation for me. This was the American Gay Utopia as I had imagined it. I couldn’t stop the tears thinking how lucky I was to be able to witness this and be a part of it, unlike my gay friends in Russia who I had left behind. Even though Weimar Berlin was officially the birthplace of the gay liberation movement, New York City is where it really took off, when a bunch of raunchy drag queens and drunken fags at the bar Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street fought back against police harassment back in the summer of 1969. For the first time gays took to the streets, and have done it every summer since to commemorate the beginning of the global gay revolution. Fast-forward 45 years, and we now live in a world where gay marriage is officially recognized in 18 countries and 18 states in the US. When I attempted to register the first same-sex marriage in Russia back in 1994, this seemed like a distant future and many of us fought and worked hard to get to this point. The new generation of gay people who are fortunate enough to live in this Gay Utopia is far less concerned about politics; they’re more interested in Lady Gaga’s latest releases or the next gay cruise than the situation of gay rights in other, less fortunate parts of the world—nearly 80 countries where it’s still illegal to be gay. Sadly, most Gay Pride parades I’ve seen in recent years reflect and promote this political indifference, targeting instead a huge consumerist appetite of the gay community. The last parade I went to was an endless stream of corporate floats with a bunch of half-naked, logo-wearing muscle clones who were paid to dance around them. The few activist groups with political slogans got lost in the rainbowcoloured sea of corporate advertisement. The excitement of my first Gay Pride memories gave way to resentment against gay parades of any sort. Does Gay Pride still matter, after all the accomplishments and victories achieved by gay people around the world? And what’s the point of holding these parades in capitals already so cosmopolitan and
progressive—almost like preaching to the choir, as they say in America? Wouldn’t it be wiser if the corporate sponsors of Gay Pride spent the same money on helping our brothers and sisters who are in trouble in places like Zimbabwe, run by the notorious dictator-homophobe Robert Mugabe; or Iran where gay people, including teenagers, are being routinely hanged in public; or Mauritania where gays are subject to the death penaltz by public stoning … The list goes on and on, with the entire Muslim world and most of Africa being aggressively anti-gay. Add to that the two most populated countries, China and India, where homosexuality is semi-legal, and Russia, which recently adopted anti-gay laws, and the map of the world suddenly doesn’t look so gay-friendly anymore. However, the massive international backlash against Putin’s anti-gay crusade gives us hope that we can unite again for the good cause.
Moscow’s new mayor recently signed a ban on Gay Pride parades for the next 100 years, calling them “satanic.” So does Gay Pride matter in 2014? The history of Stonewall, which started with a drunken brawl and grew into a huge protest and nationwide movement, teaches us one important lesson: a bunch of queers and drag queens can, in fact, change the world. Gay Pride is a good reason to rally and protest, reflect and celebrate. It’s time to get political again; it’s time to remember our rebellious past and reclaim the streets, show our power in numbers and fight for equality not only in places like New York or Berlin, but also in all the homophobic capitals of the world, from Tehran to Moscow. It’s time for us to make homophobia a disease of the past. Happy Pride everyone!