InterPride's 28th Annual General Meeting was hosted in St. Petersburg, Florida on a weekend when most of the Northeast was blanketed by cold, cold rain, the middle weekend in October. Coordinators of Pride events from around the world convened at the Trade Winds resort to exchange knowledge, stories and energy on the way to a more united LGBTI movement.
Workshops and social events, designed to break down barriers and establish social and sociable networking, were interspersed throughout the day and offerings included Board Development, Parade Logistics, Theme Development (for the worldwide them of Pride), Fund Development, Media, Advocacy and Activism and more! There was a Women's Caucus, where women all came together to discuss concerns and strategies, and next year there will be a Trans Caucus, where Transmen and Transwomen can share their work, as we all continue our journey toward full equality for everyone.
One session was dedicated to the new documentary film "Beyond Gay," which will soon be showing at an independent cinema near you. For "Beyond Gay," filmmaker Bob Christie followed Ken Coolen, current president of the Vancouver Pride Society, for a year, documenting the triumphs and struggles of Pride organizations around the world. Where we in coastal areas of the United States enjoy some degree of freedom, it's sobering to see that in Sri Lanka, where someone can be arrested and beaten for holding hands, that a Pride celebration is made by flying rainbow colored kites in concert with one another. Kite flying is a national pastime in Sri Lanka, so this peaceful celebration and protest is a broad declaration that LGBTI people exist.
Also in the film is documentation of the very first successful, peaceful Pride march in Moscow, led by Nikolai Alekseev, founder of Moscow Pride, an attorney by trade, and a master strategist. Nikolai's parade was a masterful redirection of attention that you will need to see to believe! Nikolai is on the forefront of the fight- sometimes literal-for LGBTI rights in Moscow and all over the Eastern Bloc. Though the contingent only marched a few hundred feet, the strategic gain is incalculable.
Those who follow world LGBTI events may have read Peter Tatchell's coverage of the nascent Belgrade Pride parade, which the government first said it would protect, then later reneged, causing the organizers to have to cancel it for fear of the safety of their contingents. While a peaceful reception was safely held for the Pride marchers on the grounds of the Swedish Embassy, the sting of disappointment had a sharp metallic tang for those involved. Billy Urich, a Vice President of Operations for InterPride and chair of InterPride's Human Rights Committee was in Belgrade, and described radical skinheads, who would rove the streets in packs of three or six, lock in on a target, and then use cellphones to summon other packs, hunting like dogs in the street. Billy had noticed three young men following him at one point, when he had the good fortune to see a group of policemen. Billy pointed the group out to the police, and the young men dispersed. Note that what happened there could easily happen here-witness the beating recently of a Queens man whose attackers are now attempting to justify violence with a variation of "gay panic" defense.
Through workshops and networking, social events that lead to deep conversations into the night, and flurries of Facebook and Twitter activity, the thread of human rights runs deep. A real treat during lunch one day was a speech by Stuart Milk, LGBT activist and nephew of Harvey Milk, who spoke of being focused on the fight for rights, wearing his uncle's class ring. Harvey wore it through his struggles in California, his fight to election, and was wearing it the day he became a victim of violent crime. Stuart wears the ring to remind him why he fights.
Stuart's message was that we make change in ways large and small. He told a story of speaking in Turkey and learning that visibly LGBT people are charged more for goods and services, even in stores that are multinational and do business here in the US. When he learned that LGBT people might have to pay three times more for a cup of Starbuck's coffee in Turkey, he wrote to Starbuck's, which banned the practice. Now there is at least one island of equality, one place where everyone is treated the same. We can all rise to the occasions we see in similar fashion.
Traveling home through the airport, a new friend, a Transwoman, spoke of mistreatment she had received from Transportation Security Administration representatives, when going through security, before her passport matched her identity. No one should suffer such indignity, and as long as we each step up to our individual challenges, no one will ever have to suffer that way.
How can you get involved? Go to InterPride.org and locate the Pride celebrations in your area. Go on a Pride Tour of your region and see what the different celebrations, large and small, have to offer. Do you like to vacation in other countries? Check out Prides in such far-reaching places as Stockholm, London or Zurich! Do you like adventure travel? Consider going to WorldPride in Warsaw! Experience the world around you and flex your LGBT muscles - the world will hear us ROAR!