Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride
A film by Bob Christie (Canada, 2009)
From the Director
“Gay people are famous for being fabulous and having lots of fun, and really that was my goal for the audience experience of Beyond Gay. So the film is definitely equal parts entertainment and education. Many people, gay and straight have become cynical about Gay Pride parades, and I hope I can put some of those criticisms to rest and get people to appreciate and celebrate the inclusiveness and diversity of Canada. I hope it’s inspirational for other countries to see what is possible. We got into some pretty dicey situations in Russia that definitely made me appreciate my home and native land more than ever…. The whole experience of making this film has been overwhelmingly rewarding so it is difficult to choose the ‘best’ moment. I think marching in Warsaw’s Equality Parade was the most empowering and exciting of all the events we went to. Sao Paulo was overwhelming in its size, but Warsaw felt very special. In Moscow we were too frightened to appreciate what was happening.” Director Bob Christie
A comprehensive look at gay pride marches and festivals around the world, this documentary follows the Vancouver Pride Society’s (VPS) parade director, Ken Coolen, and his colleagues as they witness different perspectives—including severe opposition and horrific violence. During their travels, they also visit Sao Paulo, Brazil, to participate in the world’s largest gay pride parade, and to New York City, the birthplace of the modern gay liberation movement. Coolen and the many organizers strive to spread the message that Pride remains a global fight for human rights. Discussion with the director follows screening.
Trailer of the Film
By Peter Keough
The Gay Pride Parade is one of the best parties of the year — so much so that it’s easy to forget that, not so long ago, it was risky to participate, or that in some cities today, a token gesture of pride can get you imprisoned or killed. Ken Coolen, director of the Vancouver Pride Parade, recognized that the celebration was overshadowing the activism at his event, and he decided to travel to less tolerant places to see how the movement was faring.
He finds the situation a lot different in Sri Lanka, where just flying the rainbow flag can get you 10 years in jail, and Warsaw, where the Catholic, nationalist, and skinhead haters vastly outnumber the handful of courageous marchers. Then things get really exciting in Moscow, where Russian activists must resort to skullduggery to pull off a 10-minute demonstration. It’s sometimes grim but mostly jubilant, thanks in part to director Bob Christie’s multi-screen montages and brisk editing.
By a Blogger
With many countries in the Northern Hemisphere approaching Gay Pride season and some people in the most liberated parts of the worlds wondering if their city’s parade is little more than a supersized party and corporately-branded event, it’s worth remembering that not all gay communities have it so easy and many Gay Pride marches around the word are victim to violent counter-protests, forced cancellation, extreme hostility and police harassment.
Take Moldova, for instance. This Eastern European country was finally allowed to stage a (very modest) Gay Pride event this year after years of political and mob suppression, but only this week an anti-discrimination rally in the country’s capital was prevented from taking place after political pressure.
And Bob Christie, a gay filmmaker who’s made a documentary on the subject, reported yesterday that Lithuania is trying to put the skids on any such event.
Bob’s film, Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride, has taken him all over the world on a quest to record and unite some of the individual struggles taking place and remind us that there is still a lot to march for.
Leaving the comfort of Vancouver behind, Bob has travelled with reps from his home city’s Pride Society to Moscow and witnessed the anti-gay violence first hand, as well as Sri Lanka, where the identities of participants are closely guarded for their own safety. This is in stark contrast to the Sao Paulo Pride Parade where Bob and his crew take part, along with 4 million others, in the world’s biggest gay pride event.
By Rob Salerno, Toronto
May 06, 2010
Over the course of a year, Christie follows Vancouver Pride Society president Ken Coolen to various international Pride events. At Warsaw Pride, a crowd of youths heckles marchers with “Great Poland, Catholic Poland.” In Budapest, marchers are separated from protesters by fencing that ultimately fails to prevent violence.
Perhaps the most moving sequence features a small but dedicated group of activists in Moscow, where Pride is banned. Christie shows how organizers lure police, press and anti-gay protestors to a decoy event at city hall while an actual 10-minute long, half-block, guerrilla Pride march unfolds without violence or arrest some distance away at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory.
“This was much more symbolic than getting beaten in the streets in front of city hall,” says Moscow Pride organizer Nickolai Alexeev in the film. Alexeev declares victory when, after a gay man on the city hall decoy detail is violently assaulted on camera, police arrest the assailants and let the victim go free. The bruised and bandaged man appears later, all smiles, at a secret Pride afterparty.
In North America, Pride is complicated by an ever-encroaching commercialization and a sense that the festivals are turning away from their political roots toward tourism, party promotion and entertainment. Christie documents the ways larger, more mainstream Pride events have supported the global Pride movement. He shows how large celebrations employ controversial messaging even while collecting corporate and government sponsorship money.
In one lengthy sequence, former Pride Toronto executive director Fatima Amarshi describes the human rights components she added to the Toronto festivities during her tenure. “We’re all very good at festivals,” Amarshi says. “We have a spot on the world stage. We can answer the call from Stonewall for an international civil rights movement.”
In the New York sequence, we meet the leaders of an alternative Pride parade, the Drag March, set up to protest the corporatization of New York Pride. “Sometimes you have to take the parade back from the leaders in the community,” one marcher says.
“Those smaller Prides would in many cases love some corporate sponsorship,” Christie tells me over the phone from Mykonos. “In many ways, it’s a measure of how far we’ve come. I don’t blame Pride organizations for seeking sponsorship because their financial support helps provide the messaging that’s so important…. I was speaking to organizers from Croatia, and they said, ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing. We see that as inspiration, as hope.’”
That balance is perhaps best illustrated in the film by a sequence from Sao Paolo, the world’s largest Pride festival, where charged political messaging and corporate logos seem naturally to coexist. The festival’s slogan is “Homophobia Kills” and features an image of a beaten, fairy-winged man. The parade itself includes a completely empty float, meant to symbolize all those lost to HIV and violence. The crowd is huge, and authorities use tear gas to disperse it when it’s time to reopen the streets.
By Randy Shore, Vancouver
July 31, 2009
Vancouver’s Pride movement is finding new relevance in missionary work and finding that there is indeed much work to do.
Bob Christie’s nearly finished documentary Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride follows Vancouver Pride organizer Ken Coolen to the four corners of the earth and unearths new goals for the movement, including international outreach.
From our vantage point in a city that turns out in the hundreds of thousands for the annual Pride Parade, the level of political, institutional and violent grassroots resistance the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) community endures in Asia and Eastern Europe seems almost unfathomable.
Vancouver Police officers and Mounties march in uniform in the Pride Parade, while their counterparts in Warsaw and Moscow hold back crowds of violent nationalist and religious anti-Pride protesters. Well, they nearly hold the protesters back. A few get through to lay a beating on some marchers and even the documentary camera crew.
“I got punched in the head in Moscow and so did our other producer when they jumped us from behind,” said Christie. “It was the first time in my life I have been gay-bashed and it was pretty scary for us.”
Gays face significant institutional resistance in Russia, too. Moscow’s mayor has refused 155 applications by organizer Nikolai Alekseev for a permit to hold a march over the past several years. This year Alekseev and 40 other organizers were arrested before they could even start the parade.
Since its earliest beginnings in the 1970s, the Vancouver Pride Parade has evolved from its political roots into a mainstream celebration and family-friendly festival, Christie said.
“I think in the ’90s the Pride movement kind of lost its way a little bit,” Christie said. “And we never saw the level of resistance here that they are fighting [abroad].”
“In the last three to five years, we are starting to look beyond our own borders,” he said.
What they find is deeply disturbing. Rather than the huge open celebration that cities such as Vancouver, San Francisco, Toronto and New York take for granted, Christie’s cameras scurry down dim stairwells to clandestine meetings with activists dodging incarceration. Large, menacing crowds of thugs pelt marchers with trash and firebomb gay bars in Eastern Europe, and in Sri Lanka there is no march at all because the penalty for homosexual acts is 10 years in prison.
Lesbians are subjected to beatings and gang rape to “cure” them of their sexual orientation, said Sri Lanka Equal Ground executive director Rosanna Flamer-Caldera. “They are deathly afraid to come out.”
It is a difficult environment in which to hold public Pride events. “At home we are not surrounded by people who want to kill us,” observed Coolen, who playfully dubs himself Big Gay Ken.
Though Beyond Gay is marketed as a Big Gay Movie with all the queer trappings that Pride parades in the West can conjure, it is quickly apparent that Pride at its core is not about sexuality but basic human rights — the right to live without fear of violence, imprisonment and murder.
Jamaican Pride activist Gareth Henry recounts the murder of a gay man in his home country that started as a police beating. When a crowd formed and demanded the police surrender the man to them to “finish him off,” they obliged and he was brutally murdered by the mob. He counts 13 friends murdered for their sexuality.
Pride marchers celebrate in Moscow when one of their activists is beaten by an anti-gay mob but released by police and his attackers detained, because “last year it was the other way around.”
As painful as it is, it is progress.
One can’t help but marvel at the irony of seeing the children and grandchildren of Russians and Poles who were murdered and oppressed by Adolf Hitler’s Nazis and Stalin’s brutal Soviet machine within living memory follow so closely in the footsteps of those monsters through the persecution of gays.
Marvellous, too, is the raw courage of the men and women who defy their governments and risk their lives for the simple right to walk down the street without hiding who they are.
Vancouver Pride has brought foreign organizers to participate in the last two Vancouver Pride Festivals. Sri Lankan Equal Ground organizer Sahran Abeysundara wept openly as the parade progressed past thousands of supporters.
For those who think that the Pride movement has passed its best-before date in Canada, Beyond Gay is a reminder that there is work to be done abroad and here at home too. Outside Canada’s major cities — and within — anti-gay sentiment still simmers just below the surface and occasionally boils over. Our cities are deceptive islands of tranquillity for the LGBT community.
“We sometimes joke that we live in a bubble in Vancouver,” Christie said. He argues Vancouver Pride has not lost its political function as a struggle for human rights.
“If you talk to the people that march, they will tell you that there is an ongoing political struggle,” he said. “Our parade is very much a celebration of what we have, but we are reincorporating that human rights element.”
Christie counts the Warsaw Pride parade as the “most empowering” of all the events he and his crew chronicled.
Warsaw Pride had to go to the European Union human rights tribunal to force the Polish authorities to allow the parade and offer police security. The police march in riot gear, forming a phalanx around the parade and containing a crowd of violent nationalist anti-Pride protesters who sing and chant like football hooligans.
“It’s sad that they can be so misguided, thinking that they are standing up for their country when what they are doing is a lot more dark than that,” Christie said.
At the end of the parade the police protection they had enjoyed quickly evaporated and they ducked into a public bathroom to turn their Pride T-shirts inside out. “It just wouldn’t be a good idea to walk around with those on,” he said.