Pride month in 2023

What is at stake nowadays?

Happy Pride Month! As you already know, June is the LGBTIQA+ Pride Month observed each year in many places around the world! During this month, Pride Parades and festivals are organized along with panel discussions, networking meetings, campaigns, parties, photo exhibitions, movie nights, etc. The fact that June is selected as Pride Month is far from incidental. As we already discussed Pride Parade’s historical origins before over the course of Ecce Homo’s blog, it was on June 28, 1970, that the first Pride March took place in the streets of New York City following a police raid on the Stonewall Inn a year ago, a gay bar at 43 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. It was at this bar where a series of spontaneous demonstrations by members of the LGBTIQ+ community -among them many trans folks and queer people of color who usually get erased even from the stories they wrote themselves- took place. Protesting against the constant police harassment, a routine back in the 1960s, patrons of the Stonewall, other Village lesbian and gay bars, and neighborhood street people fought back when the police became violent. So, this is how the story goes! But what is at stake for Pride Month in 2023? Does the original spirit live one in today’s festivities? In what follows we will attempt at offering some preliminary insights on this matter taking the two biggest Pride Parades in Greece as our case study!

In the collective consciousness, the Stonewall Riots have been registered as the hallmark of the Gay Liberation Movement, a turning point in LGBTIQ+ history. These riots, also known as the Stonewall Uprising, have sparked the revolutionary political imaginary of millions of queer folks around the world ever since, given the global cultural influence of the USA on the rest of the world and the internationalization of LGBTIQ+ identities and of the movement itself. However, as rights and recognition have been gained over time, Pride itself has lost the radical and revolutionary character of a riot or a march and instead, it has turned into a multimillion-dollar industry of joyous festivities where, in many cases, the celebration of a hard-won and yet unfinished sexual liberation has displaced the serious political reflection. Take for example the way major fashion brands celebrate Pride Month with their rainbow-themed collections of products released every year. But let’s focus on the case of Greece, shall we? Here is a bit of the historical genealogy of Pride Parades in Greece and an initial mapping of their geographical distribution across the country.

The annual organization of Pride Parades taking place in Athens and Thessaloniki, the co-capital and second largest city in Greece, constitute -like any other Pride Parade- ‘sites of tension and ambivalence – between commercialization and politicization, festivity and protest, normalization, and contention, “liberation and legitimation”, as Abby Peterson puts it in the book Pride Parades and LGBT Movements: Political Participation in an International Comparative Perspective (2018, p. 2)’. More specifically, the Pride Parade in these two cities has been an object of intense and polarized political negotiations, contestations, and reappropriations by the different strands of the LGBTIQ+ social movement that heuristically exemplify the constitutive antinomies of the Greek queer politics along opposing political and ideological trajectories. Antithetical political meanings are attached to these events, opposing key signifiers are mobilized, and different affective atmospheres emerge and invest these assemblies to diverging political goals.

In particular, regarding the history of the Pride Parade in Greece, there were some attempts at organizing such a parade and similar events, among them the Pride Parades organized in the 1990s by activist Paola Revenioti in Athens. However, the first ‘official’ Athens Pride Parade Festival was organized in 2005 with the participation of many LGBTIQ+ groups, NGOs, and collectives, and ever since, it takes place every June in Athens. During the last decade, we observe the organization of such Pride Parades in other major Greek cities energizing the local LGBTIQA+ communities and following diverse political trajectories, such as in Thessaloniki, Patra, Heraklion, and Volos. Quite telling of the diversification of LGBTIQA+ activism is the paradigm of the two Pride Parades that take place every year in Thessaloniki. While the first Thessaloniki Pride has started in 2012 becoming one of the most popular Pride Parades in the Balkans and a major tourist attraction, 6 years after its launching, the first Self-organized Thessaloniki Pride took place voicing a growing critique against the state-backed and sponsor-led character of the former as part of a neoliberal ‘pinkwashing’ homonormative politics. Such a critique is voiced by a series of leftist and/or anarchist groups that prefer the term queer over the term gay for example, while at the same time, their political claims are posed on an intersectional basis.
Perhaps here a reminder on the notion of homonormativity is in order as we argue that this term condenses exactly what is at stake for Pride Month nowadays, in 2023. This argument is particularly pertinent in the case of Greece which is plagued by a series of interlocking crises and interwoven oppressions, such as the ongoing financial crisis, the refugee crisis, the rise of the Greek #MeToo movement, the explosion of femicides, and the neoliberalization of the national economy with dire consequences on public health and education and housing, among others. Once again Lisa Duggan, in her 2003 seminal book The Twilight of Equality?: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy, provides us with an eloquent definition and an insightful description of this homonormative politics in the USA back in the 90s which uncannily resonates strongly today with our Greek predicament.
‘National lesbian and gay civil rights, lobbying and litigation organizations have nearly all moved away from constituency mobilization and community-based consultation during the past decade. Following the national political culture to the right, and pressed by the exigencies of fundraising for survival, gay civil rights groups have adopted neoliberal rhetoric and corporate decision-making models. No longer representative of a broad-based progressive movement, many of the dominant national lesbian and gay civil rights organizations have become the lobbying, legal, and public relations firms for an increasingly narrow gay, moneyed elite. Consequently, the push for gay marriage and military service has replaced the array of political, cultural, and economic issues that galvanized the national groups as they first emerged from a progressive social movement context several decades earlier.’ (Duggan, 45)

It is exactly this new neoliberal sexual politics that Duggan described and analyze via the notion of the new homonormativity in order to draw the attention to the influence of neoliberalism on LGBTIQA+ politics in the USA in the 90s. One can feel -after two decades- the strong resonance of her words in today’s predicament when the hegemonic LGBTIQA+ politics continue to be ‘a politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions, but upholds and sustains them, while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption.’ (Duggan, 50)

Back to the case study of Greece, a similar attempt at reclaiming and repoliticizing the Pride Parade held in Athens as ‘a riot, not a capitalist fiesta’ took place in 2020 under the banner of Queer Liberation March, when the institution Athens Pride, an NGO itself, went online due to COVID-19 mobility restrictions. The differences between these two politics of assembly touch upon many aspects of the Pride Parades and festivals, ranging from their very infrastructure and organizing principles and the affective atmospheres of the marches to the key political signifiers they mobilize and the ideological underpinnings of the politics they engage. Even though one should not lose sight of the internationalization of LGBTIQ+ identities and politics, these heated debates have been culturally translated into the Greek context in dialog with the native conceptualizations of gender and sexuality and have been articulated in specific ideological terms corresponding to the specificity of the Greek social and political landscape. These remarks notwithstanding, one question remains: What does the future hold for the Greek LGBTIQ+ activism in the following years?