CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Opening speech of Kristine Garina, President, at the European Pride Organisers Association AGM
Scheduled for 13.00hrs BST, Friday 13 October 2023, Leonardo Hotel Cardiff
Thank you, Gian, for your warm welcome. And thank you to the whole Pride Cymru team for working so hard to organise this year’s Annual General Meeting.
First Minister, members, colleagues, friends, it gives me enormous pleasure to welcome you to our twenty-ninth Annual General Meeting. Despite the roots of EPOA being in London at EuroPride 1992, it seems strange that we have never had an AGM in the UK before. But here we are, and we are all delighted to be in Cardiff, last week named the UK’s best destination!
As many of you will know, this is my last AGM as President of EPOA. It has been an immense privilege to lead this organisation over the last eight years. I hope you will indulge me as I reflect on some of what we have achieved in that time.
I was elected during our AGM in Amsterdam, when all the members could fit around one table. Together, since then, we have quadrupled our membership. Our members are no longer only the larger capital city Prides, but we also include many smaller Prides in rural areas, supporting many isolated communities.
At that AGM there was one bid for EuroPride. At the following AGM there were two bids but one didn’t show up. EuroPride has continued to grow in importance to the extent that we now have healthy and fierce competition for the event.
And as I mention EuroPride, what an event we had last month! It was certainly a contrast to the political controversy surrounding last year’s EuroPride in Belgrade and I look forward to the reports from Malta and Belgrade later today.
It is also eight years since my Pride hosted EuroPride in Riga in 2015. Five years after the first EuroPride in eastern Europe in Warsaw, we were the first in the former Soviet Union. The political importance of EuroPride continues as we saw in the reaction to EuroPride in Belgrade. Next year we return to the Balkan region with EuroPride in Thessaloniki.
Thessaloniki should of course have had EuroPride in 2020 but the pandemic forced a postponement. And look at how we responded when the pandemic cancelled our Prides: we rose up as our movement has always done and we created Global Pride, reaching an online audience of 57 million people with a 27 hour Pride show.
We also rose up to challenge the hateful narrative emerging in Poland that led to the introduction of so-called LGBT Free Zones. With the support of our members, we supported Prides in Poland to come together and organise, leading to the Polish Prides Alliance established last year.
And not only Poland. We’ve been supporting our members in Hungary, North Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, Turkey and many other countries where Prides have faced political opposition.
Perhaps our greatest achievement is one that I truly wish we had not had to perform. On the day that Putin launched Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine, the EPOA board met to discuss how we respond. The following day we launched a fundraising appeal for Kharkiv Pride and Kyiv Pride to support their humanitarian efforts and to ensure they have funds to rebuild once Ukraine wins the war. So far, we’ve raised more than one hundred thousand Euros and every cent goes to our members in Ukraine
And by producing the Prides Stand With Ukraine flag and by carrying the banner at Prides across Europe and at Sydney WorldPride, we’ve ensured the situation of LGBTI+ people in Ukraine is not forgotten.
That is what we can do when we come together. The power of our movement is limitless. And that is why we gather this weekend.
I am very excited to find out this weekend who will have the privilege of becoming EPOA’s next President, and not only because I have quite a lot to hand over to them, but because the job of EPOA is only going to increase in importance in the coming years.
Our movement, our lives and our identities have never faced challenges like they do today.
We’ve seen this most starkly in recent weeks in Poland, ahead of elections taking place on Sunday – and that’s why so few Polish members are able to be here this weekend, due to tight restrictions on who can vote and where. We hope for an end to the intensely homophobic government that has had such a negative effect on our community.
In Italy, the office of Torino Pride was attacked last weekend, and the government of Georgia Meloni is rolling back rights of same-sex parents to be recognised on birth certificates. Who knows what they will target next. We have many Italian members here today, and we want you to know that we stand with you as you stand up to Meloni. As the saying goes, More Limoni, less Meloni.
In Georgia, Tbilisi Pride was violently attacked by an enormous mob of far-right nationalists with links to the Kremlin, while police stood aside and largely allowed it to happen. Mariam, we are pleased to have you with us this weekend.
In Ukraine, the fight continues for recognition of the rights of same-sex partners of those killed and injured in Russia’s terrorist war. Our community will need support to continue their humanitarian assistance and to rebuild after the war. Lenny, we are so glad to have you on our Board, centering the Ukrainian voice where it is most needed.
Even in Malta, sitting at the top of the European league table for LGBTI+ rights, there is work to do. It remains the worst European country for reproductive rights, and this is an LGBTI+ issue as we highlighted during EuroPride last month. And the attack at Gozo Pride, at the start of EuroPride, showed that legislation alone doesn’t change attitudes.
I could identify a cause in every country. And let’s not forget that in June we will have European elections in 27 member states. The term of the first EU Commissioner for Equality will conclude – and we hope it will be renewed. But we must expect that LGBTI+ lives, freedoms and human rights will be weaponised and instrumentalised in the run up to those elections.
It feels a bit awkward to mention European elections when I stand here in the United Kingdom. I won’t say the B word.
But there is a serious point.
When I became President of EPOA, just eight years ago, the United Kingdom was at the top of the Rainbow Europe index. It was, in a legislative sense, the best place in Europe to be LGBTI+. It scored 86 points out of 100.
Today, with 53 points out of 100, it sits in seventeenth place.
This is no surprise when you consider the current political landscape in the United Kingdom. Some of the highest offices of the UK government are held by people who are openly transphobic – including Prime Minister Sunak. The Minister of the Interior speaks with glee when she says that being LGBTI+ is no reason for anyone seek asylum here and that nothing would make her happier than to see planes full of refugees being flown to Rwanda.
Attacks on our community are growing. I’m really pleased that we have Sab here, the founder of Drag Queen Story Hour. At some points this year he’s been under police protection because of threats against him which are linked to rising hostility in political rhetoric.
Hate crime is spiraling out of control. Figures published last week show a 186% increase in transphobic hate crimes in the last five years. Hate crime on the basis of sexual orientation is up 112% in the same period. The headlines about LGBTI+ people being violently attacked in the UK seem to be getting ever more frequent.
It really was no surprise that a conference planned by the UK government last summer, to mark 50 years of Pride in the UK, was boycotted by every civil society organisation, including EPOA, forcing its cancellation. Frankly the UK government is in no position to be lecturing anyoneabout LGBTI+ rights, here or abroad.
To our UK members here, EPOA stands with you today and always. The approach to the next UK election next year is going to lead to more ugly rhetoric but this is where you should be calling out your politicians. If they want to utilise the photo call at Pride, make sure they stand up for you in parliament.
I do want to be clear that I am talking about the UK government in London, and not the Welsh government here in Cardiff. The hateful rhetoric is coming from London, where responsibility for policing and hate crime lies. I am greatly encouraged that the First Minister has spoken passionately about his desire to make Wales the best place to be LGBTI+ in Europe, and I look forward to hearing more from him shortly.
First Minister, it is an honour for us to have you here. At EuroPride in Vienna in 2019, the President of Austria became the first head of state to address a EuroPride. Today we create more history for our Association as you are the first head of government to address us. So thank you for your commitment to our community, for your support for Pride Cymru, and for being here today.
It is often said that Pride is the most successful, visible and enduring movement the world has ever known. Sometimes I think we say it without thinking about it. But when we consider the challenges I mentioned earlier, and the way in which our movement responds it is clear why that statement is true.
I hope that for all of you this weekend is inspiring and informative but also fun as we come together as colleagues and friends. For the few who will join the board of EPOA and for one who will lead it, it will be a transformational weekend. For you, for all of us, take very good care of our organisation and our movement because we really are going to need to be ready to respond to the challenges ahead.