Despatch from Berlin | 40 years of Berlin Pride: party, parade & politics

After a week of soaring temperatures, on the sunny last Saturday of July, the rainbow dominated Berlin. In Kurfürstendamm, a popular shopping avenue in the city, one could barely see the road and shops through the scores of people, flags, placards and parade buses. An hour before the biggest LGBTQAI+ event of the year, Christopher Street Day (CSD) parade, flagged off, over 100,000 people, soaked in glitter and confetti, had already congregated in an assortment of costumes, ranging from over-the-top drag to bare skin.

Forty years ago, when the first Pride took place in West Berlin, it gathered only over 450 people. The 41st CSD on July 27 witnessed an estimated 1 million visitors from around the world, according to the organisers. The parade culminated at Brandenburg Gate, where Berlin’s Mayor Michael Müller welcomed visitors to the “best and biggest CSD” the city has ever had. “Each and every one of us must act against discrimination together,” he declared.

This year’s march, themed “Stonewall 50 — every riot begins with your voice”, was dedicated to the clashes that took place between the queer community, led by drag queen Marsha P. Johnson, and the police in New York City in 1969. “The fight that started with Stonewall is not over yet,” announced one of the organisers on the leading bus, as the engines turned on. The U.S. Embassy float, with a poster informing that over 70 countries still criminalise homosexuality, urged for global solidarity against homophobia.

Onboard the float of Berliner Aids-Hilfe e.V., a non-profit association which supports people with HIV, senior citizens hurled condom packets in the crowd marching along the open-top bus. On one side, a teenage girl, donning rainbow wings, held onto a fluttering queer flag, along with her grandmother. Some marchers broke into impromptu voguing as Todrick Hall’s Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels played on popular request. Every hour, the DJ lowered the music, to announce the six demands for this year’s CSD. Among the international appeals were to “stop stigmatisation and exclusion of HIV-positive people” and “to hell with patriarchy”. National demands included the right for all threatened LGBTQAI+ people with migratory history to stay in Germany and action against the far-right wing. For Berliners, the demands were to have the first inclusive living and cultural centre for lesbians in the city and professional diversity management for the employees of the Berlin administration and in the municipal companies.

Reaffirming the status of Berlin as the “rainbow capital of Germany”, Senator for Justice, Consumer Protection and Anti-Discrimination, Dirk Behrendt released a 92-pointer action plan, four days before the CSD, advocating self-determination and acceptance of gender and sexual diversity for 2020-21 and beyond.

Right to determine

The plan supports a person’s right to determine their own sexuality and gender identity, which especially affects the transgender community and queer refugees.

Germany has had a tumultuous past with queer rights. After the golden 1920s, when Berlin housed sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexology, a centre for study and medical research on sexual and gender diversity, the Nazis prosecuted homosexuals and sent them to concentration camps, where thousands died of starvation and diseases. The prosecution of queer people in Germany did not end with the Nazi regime. Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code, which criminalised homosexuality, was only abolished 25 years ago in 1994.

Keeping up with its political messaging, the Berlin Pride was also accompanied by ‘alternative’ protests. A day before the CSD, the Dyke March, organised by and for lesbians, protested against gentrification, displacement of open spaces and climate change.

The Radical Queer March, which took place on the same evening, sought to be independent of and demonstrate against corporate, State and police intervention. Within the same march, the ‘Queers for Palestine’ block advocated against pinkwashing in Israel. But as the day turned into night, the sloganeering and advocacy gave way to concerts and after-parties, where drag performances, pop and techno music, turned a massive protest into a celebration.

Kennith Rosario works with The Hindu

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