ILGA-Europe are an independent, international non-governmental umbrella organisation bringing together over 600 organisations from 54 countries in Europe and Central Asia. Evelyne has worked for the organisation since 2005.
Evelyne, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing the LGBTI community in Europe right now?
One of the biggest challenges is the sharp rise of anti-LGBTI hate speech we are witnessing across Europe, often carried out by public figures. Over the past year, there has been official hate speech from political and religious leaders in countries including Albania, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Kosovo, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Turkey. In the majority of these countries, anti-LGBTI rhetoric was propagated with impunity.
This is translating into very real consequences for LGBTI people across Europe and not only in the countries where political and religious leaders are saying hateful things. There has been an equally sharp increase in online hate-speech and physical attacks, many of the latter premeditated and brutal. Other developments such as the banning of events in Armenia, Hungary, Poland, Russia and Turkey, and the prosecution of participants in Pride events in the latter, add to an atmosphere lacking in a sense of safety. And while some cities and towns in countries including the Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, and Ukraine have attempted to crack-down on anti-Pride demonstrations, they are in the minority.
How can the Pride movement help to combat these challenges?
Pride is a statement that people exist as they are and that they have the courage to take a stand for the value of their existence. Turkey and Poland are recent examples of countries where people are standing up in spite of the risks posed to them by clamp-downs on human rights defenders, or hateful groups who are encouraged into anti-LGBTI action by official hate speech. Poland, for instance, were there has been the growth of so-called ‘LGBT-Free Zones’, had a huge proliferation of Pride marches last year, showing that the movement, rather than being cowed by official hate, is grouping with its allies and holding strong. The Pride movement also refuses to be invisible in a world where LGBTI people are often deliberately made invisible so that they can be disempowered, and where representation has historically been marginalised and stereotyped.
Pride continues to be a crucial test for governments on freedom of assembly, which is a human right that so many of us take for granted, but which is under threat in many countries.
What’s your biggest hope for Pride in 2020?
I hope that the majority of Prides are moments of joy, empowerment, fun, self-actualisation and community celebration, in safe and protected environments.>
And where it is more difficult, that governments and local authorities take the matter as seriously as can be, playing their roles fully to make sure people are protected. I also hope that political leaders in Europe don’t take for granted that Prides are a given, even in 2020.
Looking further ahead, how would you like to see Pride develop in the rest of the decade?
I am so heartened and excited to see so much more inclusion and diversity in the Pride movement. It is wonderful to hear that the first Muslim Pride in London will take place this year, and to see the growth of Trans Prides and Black Prides. It is empowering for us all to see communities within the broader LGBTI community coming together that way, and claiming their space. I’m excited to see more groups from the LGBTI intersections organising around Pride. I do hope, though, that it evolves in ways that ensure there is real and equal space for everyone; that it’s an arena where everyone feels they are truly seen.
Which Prides are you really looking forward to visiting in 2020 or beyond?
I don’t know yet which Pride I might personally be joining – aside from The Belgian Pride, in ILGA-Europe’s hometown, of course! – but the ILGA Europe team are planning on being present at Prides where we consider that our presence will contribute to helping bring about real and needed change, where we can play a role in monitoring and reporting with governments and institutions, and mobilising political support at local level.
We do, of course, look forward to being present at EuroPride in Thessaloniki! We understand the importance of having the celebration in this region for the first time. There is still so much to be done in Greece and it will be important to have a show of support, not only on a national level but also for those from neighbouring countries who’ll be joining the march.
Finally, what’s your most cherished memory of a Pride?
I will never forget the first Cyprus Pride in 2014. The night before the march, I was with the whole board of ILGA Europe and the legendary activist and founder of the Gay Liberation Movement in Cyprus in 1987, Alecos Modinos, and it was an inspirational moment. The organisers were hoping for 200-300 people the following day, but between 4,000 and 5,000 came together to walk through the streets of Nicosia and celebrate for the whole afternoon in a city park.
There were so many people, including many ‘straight’ couples with their kids and many allies from public institutions and media. You could sense a palpable feeling of liberation. On all my previous trips to Cyprus, I’d been told, “the people here just don’t want to talk about it, it’s taboo,” and yet there we were in the middle of such a genuinely joyful and happy crowd coming together, LGBTI people and many friends, family and allies there to support. It was a moment when I fully understood the power of Pride, the empowerment of its participants, and its ability to affect and reflect real change in society.
Image: ILGA Europe