A Catholic Foreign Ally’s March with Pride Bratislava
June 9, 2011 by Sharon Groves, Director, Religion and Faith Program
Anne Underwood, member of HRC's Religion Council, and founder of Catholics for Marriage Equality recently traveled to Bratislava Slovakia, a heavily Catholic country where LGBT people are struggling for their basic human rights. She was able to take part in their second Pride parade and the first peaceful one. This Pride was a life-changing, frightening, and ultimately empowering experience for the people of Slovakia. It was deeply moving to Anne and to us at HRC to see how Catholics around the world are looking at the advocacy work of Catholics for LGBT equality in the United States for inspiration. Here is Anne's report:
Catholics for Marriage Equality signs elicited cheers and tears during Slovakia’s second annual Pride Parade, June 4. Pride events are very new and somewhat few in formerly communist east of Europe. Demonstrable faith-based support is embryonic. People remain scared, shy, awed, delighted.
No "chill out” or "celebration" atmosphere here. The pride-on-parade felt like "pride in commitment" and "pride in hope." Very different from pride in a good party-day or a movement with self-confidence and internal resources.
Young, straight personnel from the U.S. and other embassies augmented creative and courageous local LGBT efforts. Stonewall’s chutzpah -- and the gulf between Pride born in 1969 and 1989 remains palpable.
Allies outnumbered LGBT paraders. Lots of both were foreigners. I and my U.S. government official friend and his partner carried C4ME posters behind the U.S. and Finnish ambassadors, and the Mayor of Bratislava. The Mayor repeatedly pronounced his pride in keeping this year’s event peaceful. In 2010 skinhead-lobbed stones and a tear gas canister struck an MP from Austria and the U.S. Charge d’ Affairs. [This year’s Mayor is from the political party of last year’s Minister of the Interior – and visa versa: the two positions in control of security. Like at home, party doesn’t determine personal professionalism and integrity.]
Armed police in riot gear, jet-black uniforms and plain-clothes guards numbered over 400. By-standers weren't permitted within 20 yards of the parade; everyone was screened to enter event areas; multiple routes were planned, with the final one chosen moments before the start by the Mayor himself.
After weeks of intelligence-gathering, police were able to block 100 plus skinheads from entering Bratislava. Another 50 gathered under the bridge we crossed. Massive police dogs with more massive masters encircled them. Delighted Slovak marchers shouted at the surrounded skinheads: mys me tu doma (“this place is mine”) – a common chant of local skinheads proclaiming ownership of sports teams and public places. Sweet revenge!
Likewise, emphatic insistence by the mayor and resolute conviction of the U.S. Ambassador that Pride is about human rights feels awesome. When I asked if his picture with the C4ME sign could be posted on our website, our ambassador said, "absolutely." How refreshing.
Photos taken of the C4ME sign touched me. Slovakia is one of the most conservative of Catholic EU members. Bishops’ vitriolic rhetoric has more impact here than in the U.S. A small group of Slovak Catholics with Protestants, recently united to educate and advocate for LGBT rights through a Christian lens.
My pride is people of faith here and everywhere who dare speak aloud: God is Love and Love is All Encompassing. And who march and shout it for all to know!
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