Pride Celebrations Amid Efforts to Decriminalize Homosexuality

Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) on June 1, 2019, organized Guyana’s annual Pride parade that took place in Georgetown, the country’s capital. (Photo courtesy of Ron Wilson/Photographers Without Borders)

This year’s Pride commemorations are taking place against the backdrop of efforts to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations around the world. 

Upwards of 200 people participated in the second annual Pride parade in the Guyanese capital of Georgetown on June 1.

The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), an advocacy group in the South American country, in a statement to the Washington Blade said Guyanese MP Priya Manickchand and diplomats from the U.K. and Canada are among those who participated. SASOD said the parade was “great and incident-free.”

“The event was truly a sight to behold,” SASOD told the Blade.

Guyana is among the more than 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Tonga Leitis Association — a group in Tonga that advocates on behalf of transgender and gender-variant Tongans and other LGBTI people in the small island nation in the South Pacific — has launched a campaign that urges the country and others in the region —  Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Samoa and the Cook Islands — to repeal their sodomy laws. 

The Tongan advocacy group told the Blade on Wednesday it does not “use the Western-centric language of ‘Pride,'” but it has scheduled events that coincide with global Pride commemorations. These include a beauty pageant that is scheduled to take place on July 11-12.

“We are deeply connected to and participate in the global movement for dignity, respect, inclusion, equality and human rights for all,” said Tonga Leitis Association.

The fifth annual Montego Bay Pride is scheduled to take place in Jamaica from Oct. 13-20.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in Jamaica, even though activists have challenged it in court. Maurice Tomlinson, a gay lawyer who organizes Montego Bay Pride, told the Blade on Monday that a gay man who participated in last year’s event “kept running and screaming in ecstasy, ‘I feel legal!”

“That to me is the real reason for Pride, especially in criminalized contexts such as Jamaica where gay men can be sent to prison for up to 10 years of hard labor for any form of intimacy, even holding hands in the privacy of their bedroom,” said Tomlinson.

The India Supreme Court last September issued a landmark ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. Kenya’s High Court on May 24 upheld the constitutionality of the country’s colonial-era sodomy law in a decision that sparked widespread outrage among activists and their supporters.

The White House in March announced gay U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell will lead an initiative that encourages countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. President Trump on May 31 noted this effort in a series of tweets that also acknowledged Pride month.

The State Department has yet to publicly acknowledge Pride month.

The Trump administration’s LGBTI rights record and overall foreign policy continues to spark outrage among activists in the U.S. and around the world. Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity and government crackdowns against LGBTI-specific events also remain commonplace in many parts of the world.

Cuban police on May 11 arrested several people who participated in an unsanctioned LGBTI march in Havana. Yasemin Oz of Kaos Gay and Lesbian Association, a Turkish advocacy group, told the Blade this week their group expects police will try to interrupt this year’s Pride events in Istanbul. 

“We are planning to make one week pride events at the third week of June in Istanbul and end the pride week with Pride demonstration as every year,” said Oz. “But Pride demonstrations were banned since 2014.” 

“Last year we managed to make a press statement with a few thousand people,” added Oz. “We don’t know yet what will happen this year.”

Other activists with whom the Blade spoke this year said they remain hopeful in spite of the continued challenges LGBTI people face around the world.

Members of the Puerto Rico Police Department, which has previously faced criticism over its treatment of LGBTI Puerto Ricans, participated in San Juan’s annual Pride parade that took place on June 2. 

Swedish Ambassador to the U.S. Karin Olofsdotter on Tuesday told the Blade during a Twitter town hall at the Human Rights Campaign with diplomats from other Nordic countries that her government remains committed to supporting LGBTI advocacy efforts abroad.

“We know that it is more challenging in many other countries,” said Olofsdotter. “We really try to do whatever we can.”

OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern added Pride “continues to be the most visible element of the global movement for LGBTIQ equality.” 

“While in some places Pride protests have grown into grand celebrations of the achievements to date, in others they remain an expression of defiance and protest,” she told the Blade in a statement. “In the 70 or so countries which still criminalize same-sex relations, or the 55 in which LGBTIQ organizations can not register, across the world where hate crimes and even murder of LGBTIQ people are commonplace, Pride is, in whatever form it takes, crucial to bringing LGBTIQ people together, to saying — we are here, we refuse to be shamed, and we demand our basic human rights to be recognized.” 


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