Pride isn’t a celebration for everyone. For those LGBTQ+ people living alongside the threat of violence, attending an event is an act of extraordinary bravery.
Nadia Rahman is a policy advisory and researcher in Amnesty International’s Gender, Sexuality and Identity team. For this piece, she spoke to Mehlab Jameel, an activist for the rights of trans people, about the diverse ways people experience Pride.
Pride started as a protest movement, and it remains one today. It is an acknowledgement and a rejection of the inequalities which continue to be imposed on people with diverse sexualities and genders worldwide.
Same-sex conduct remains criminalised in over 68 countries and LGBTQ+ people still face multiple barriers which prevent them from accessing employment, healthcare, education, and housing.
The past year has marked the highest number of recorded trans killings. According to the Trans Murder Monitoring Project, 375 trans and gender diverse people were killed globally between 1 October 2020 and 30 September 2021 – although many more cases go unreported.
For some people, Pride can be a joyful celebration which honours their hard-won claims to space and visibility, and is an opportunity to come together as a community.
But for those within the LGBTQ+ community who face intersecting forms of marginalisation, the events can also be a harsh reminder of the erasure of their struggles against other systemic inequities and injustices.
For others, public acknowledgement of Pride is simply not possible or desirable at all. In many places around the world, attending a Pride event is an act of extraordinary bravery – it means risking violence, abuse, and even prosecution.
We must recognise that for many there is a quiet revolution in just living to see another day in the face of harsh criminalisation, discrimination, and the ever-present threat of violence.
Mehlab Jameel, a queer researcher and activist from Pakistan, told Amnesty International what Pride means to her.
“I want to practice a Pride that is not violent to shame. I want to march without a shield. No weapons. No arms. Just me. And my joie de vivre. Simply stepping into my freedom. Under the open sky. To be trans and alive, to be woman and free, to be queer and brave,” Jameel said.
Her words are a rallying cry against tokenism and easy binaries, and a reminder that many people feel erased or alienated by the “glare of Pride.”
She explained how the celebrations in Pakistan after the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act of 2018 was passed “were oddly reminiscent of Pride marches elsewhere, and were easily weaved into a narrative of liberation”.
But there was a long and difficult struggle that led to that point.
The passage of the Act was the culmination of a drawn-out advocacy process involving protests, multi-sectoral dialogues between different stakeholders, and legal interventions.
Jameel asked: Why are these acts of resistance against ongoing oppression not considered demonstrations of Pride?
She described feeling exhausted by the “demand of visibility levied on trans and queer bodies at Pride marches”.
She said: “I find that in such hierarchal spaces, trans and queer bodies at multiple intersections of marginality are only given a voice as props to perform inclusivity and respectability. These real humans then only exist for consumption as a spectacle, a debate, a question.”
There is a lesson in these words for all of us. True solidarity means looking beneath the surface. It means putting LGBTQ+ people, especially those facing intersecting forms of marginalisation, at the centre of any decisions that affect them.
It means looking at LGBTQ+ issues through an antiracist and decolonising lens, and recognising and addressing the reality that the global LGBTQ+ community are facing many diverse struggles.
It requires that we listen and learn from grassroots LGBTQ+ groups and movements and honour and respect their priorities for themselves.
As we celebrate Pride season, we – LGBTQ+ people and allies – stand in solidarity with these different struggles.
We carry the memories of all those who we have lost and honour those who are living by recognising that there is more than one way to claim ‘Pride’ as LGBTQ+ people.
The Invisible Ones
The beautiful beings living in the cracks and shadows,
the creatures of the dark, the ones left behind,
the ones on the margins, the quiet, shy and ordinary ones,
nor raging, nor dancing,
not making speeches or performing,
the joyful and the grieving,
those tired and ailing,
those unheard and unseen,
the invisible ones.
Away from the microphone and the lens,
the glare of Pride, representation or recognition.
Abandoning addictions of traumatized collectivities
and the seduction of martyrdom.
Overcoming co-dependent sisterhoods
and the tendency to be a token.
Challenging the allure of controversies,
stepping away, disengaging, turning down.
Handling rejection and dismissal with grace
being mindful of consumption.
Abandoning the thrill of chasing an image,
or the glorified illusions of dysfunction.
No longer enforcing change
by evoking toxic shame.
No more breaking hearts
to heal yourself or your movements.
You are so close to my heart,
so special. Full of wisdom and power.
I sense your magic twinkling in your sarees,
your bodies adorned with strength and valor.
I witness you living your truths,
surviving, thriving and celebrating your fire.
I hear you telling stories, birthing new worlds,
making homes with warm food and laughter.
I see you working, resting, caring, sharing,
making offerings to every other stranger.
I feel your joy, softness, play and pleasure,
smiles in bloom, like a big sunflower.
Keeping faith. Holding space.
Eyes brimming with awe and wonder,
You are the true heroes,
the real treasure.
This piece was originally published by Openly