Campaign of the Month for July 2012: Kaleidoscope’s ‘Illegal to be you’

We’re hardly out of the first week of July but the choice for Campaign of the Month at campaigns:worth:sharing is clear.  Launched last week, Kaleidoscope’s ‘Illegal to be you’ campaign attempts to make people realise how deeply we feel about being ostracised and barred from going on with our lives as we please by characteristics that for us are only natural, but which the rest of society considers deviant.

Kaleidoscope is a relatively new charity working to raise awareness of human rights abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in countries where being identified as part of a sexual minority can be life-threatening.  We are told by Kaleidoscope that 78 countries persecute gay people and at least 5 countries still reserve the death penalty for gay people.  According to this map published by ILGA in May 2012, the countries are more than 5 however: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Yemen, Sudan and parts of Nigeria and Somalia.

I went to a concert by the fantastic London Gay Men’s Chorus at Southwark Cathedral on Friday, where all donations collected went to Kaleidoscope.

At one point a young black activist spoke about how hard it is for him and for other LGBT people to live in his unspecified country, how he feels he is forced to live his life in chains, and how he prays for change.  The LGMC’s rendition of some powerful songs can already send tingles down one’s spine, but while listening to this person’s brief albeit emotional speech I drew an even deeper breath and shuddered at the thought of having to flee persecution in my own country because of who I so intrinsically was.

This point was driven deeper into me on Saturday when, while waiting for the march to start, I asked a man who passed by me whether I could take a photo of his shirt, which had the design shown on the left.  He accepted but said ‘Not of my face, not of my face’.  I told him I’d show him the photo once I took it to put his mind at rest, but he still covered his face with his hands.  He very probably is from a territory where it is illegal to be who he is.

The threat of persecution faced by people just by being themselves brings me to another perhaps more frivolous point.

I got a bit tired of hearing people complain that floats were not allowed this year.  (I have different views about other transport modes having been banned – I believe some vehicles would have made the march more accessible for elderly LGBT.  I marched with a charity which works with older LGBT and the number of people who attended this year was less than that of previous years because the usual bus was not allowed this year and many of them cannot march the whole stretch.)

Back to the floats – if the floats were the types where people dance away on while clad in as little as possible, I did not miss them one tiny bit.  I may be one of the few who wish Prides in most big cities rediscovered the meaning of the Prides of yesteryear and embraced once again the reason why Pride marches are held.  I think World Pride in London in an Olympic year could have taken the initiative of delivering a stronger message to decriminalise same-sex love in the countries where it is viciously banned, but sadly missed it.

What if the marchers had agreed to march in silence for part of the walk, in remembrance of the millions of oppressed LGBT worldwide?  What if all the merriment respectfully gave way for a few minutes to the scene of tens of thousands of silent marchers and supporters, who reclaim the capital city of the world but do so in poignant remembrance of those who wish to freely march but can’t?

For a few minutes, we could have marched in unison, united by our differences as well as by our silence, to send out messages of hope, of liberation and of mutual collaboration to the millions watching, and to the millions aspiring to some day join us.

I often wish Pride would rediscover itself.  And I hope rediscovering ourselves helps us to march defiantly on, with conviction in our stride, passion in our hearts and hope for those who cannot as yet march safely.  We don’t even need floats for that.

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