By Melanie Nathan, July 03, 2014.
Community Grand Marshal for San Francisco Pride
I had the great honor this year of being appointed by the San Francisco Pride Board as a community Grand Marshal. The popular vote was won by an extraordinary and courageous young woman who I took great joy in getting to know, through the various Pride events. That was young transgender teen Jewlyes Guiterrez, who fought back when a bully spat gum in her face. (left)
It was a great experience to participate in all aspects of Pride. It started with the media press conference at the Pier 30 Hard Rock Cafe and Aquarium Auditorium with Robbie Kaplan, Edie Windsor’s attorney who won the SCOTUS DOMA case, and the other community Grand Marshals, all so accomplished and passionate about their fields of LGBTI activism.
The community Grand Marshal honor opened many doors for global LGBT advocacy especially given the theme for San Francisco Pride 2014, “Color Our World with Pride.”
I invited 21 people from the African LGBT community to come and march with me, but unfortunately the U.S. State Department turned down the first 7 visas, resulting in us pulling the remaining 14. The Embassies were fearful that our guests would not return to their persecuting countries. Upset at the hypocrisy on the issue, I wrote this article on Huffington Post – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/melanie-nathan/secretary-of-state-kerry-pays-lip-service_b_5523234.html
One of the highlights was being honored, as a keynote speaker, at the installation of the PINK TRIANGLE on Twin Peaks. It was the first time that I have ever made a speech, (on
USA soil, that is,) in front of that many elected officials, to include Mayor of San Francisco, Ed Lee, State Senator, Mark Leno, a bevvy of SF Supervisors, and State Treasurer.
I was able to draw parallels between events and the scapegoating laws during the Nazi Germany era and current similar events and laws in Africa, noting:
“…. Imagine if Ann Frank had access to the internet? Imagine if you invited Ann Frank to a Jewish festival here in San Francisco and imagine if the State Department said – “no no no we are not giving her a visa, she may never go home.”(pause) … Friends this is what happened to us here at PRIDE this week. We invited LGBT Africans from several countries with laws and milieu similar to Uganda. And The Embassies systematically denied each visas because they were afraid our guests would not go home to their persecuting countries.”
AND ending on this note:
” In extraordinary times we are expected to do extraordinary things. Are we going to let the eradication of Africa’s LGBT community happen on our watch? This Pink Triangle, the symbol, will not allow us to forget but what good is it if we ignore? “
Another highlight was having both my daughters by my side, as well as stunning filmmaker Kristina Lapinski, who props me up each and every day. My kids loved meeting one of their celebrity heroes, Lea DeLaria.
The Pride Brunch fund raiser, for HIV/AIDS, hosted by socialite Donna Sachet and Gary Virginia, President of Pride Board, was enthralling, with yet another opportunity to yell “FULL FEDERAL EQUALITY NOW,” getting 400 guests on their feet in agreement.
The parade itself brought t the fore an amazing show of support and love by friends, family and supporters who came out to march. The astounding amount of preparation and hard work by Siobhan McGuire a PhD candidate – who was the brains and creative talent behind the art work, the masks, and wired continents.
We had an incredible diversity amongst our supporters, with ages ranging from 18 months to 80, including Russians, Zambian, Cameroonians, South Africans, Brits, Vietnamese, Arab, Israeli, Americans, Philippines and more.
Having Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado march in support of my contingent with Dan Choi showing up brought fond memories of our victories, such as the Private Bill by Senator Feinstein for Shirley back in 2009, as well as the DADT victory, leading to us all marching together back at Pride 2009.
Patrick Fasano, the kindest man I know, of Focus Opticians and his gorgeous husband Brian, did the honors carrying the placards depicting Pink Prick ..er Brick awardee Scott Lively.
Mark Purpura on the Board of Equality Delaware and boyfriend John carried the most important banner depicting the State Department’s denial of our LGBT visas.
Tony Rowe and his husband declined the Cher concert and decided to march with me instead. More friendship came from Alan Earnest and Cesar, Robert Becker, Sue, Rochelle Fortier Nwadibia, and more. It was a great honor to have along the wonderful group of humanitarians from Rainbow World Fund. My daughter’s school friends Liam and Camille joined us too showing their upbeat spirit.
A special treat was the support of Neal Gottlieb, adventurer and entrepreneur, owner of Three Twins Ice Cream. Neal, a straight ally, climbed the highest Ugandan peak and planted a rainbow flag there soon after Museveni signed the anti-gay bill. He was so determined to march with our contingent that he deposited his bags at SFO the night before the march, so he could dash off from the Parade to make is flight to NYC.
Most special was meeting new friends from Cameroon.
And nothing could top the experience of main stage – looking out at so many thousands of people with my most special friends Amu and Chalwe, holding flags (SEE VIDEO BELOW) and my two daughters, with Kristina filming, while together with the crowd we belted: “#AFRICaPRIDE.”
Special thanks must go to Michele Meow, Gary Virginia, Rebecca Rolfe and Evan Knopf from the SF LGBT Community Center, and the guys from Marriage Equality California, and Cathy Kristofferson for a year of relentless support.
Also thank you to David Robinson for his amazing photography of Uganda Pride 2012 which he allowed us to use on as a slide show on main stage.
The Article I wrote for the print magazine INSIDE PRIDE:
From Pride to Pride – The Global Backlash
By Melanie Nathan©
May 26, 2014.
Last year’s San Francisco Pride Parade saw marriage equality helming our joy, with much focus on our victories in the United Sates. Since then, we have watched the incredible domino effect, as the states, one by one, bow to the constitutional correctness of claiming the right to marriage equality for same-sex couples. Though we have yet to set a unified benchmark in our quest for full equality, with an unfortunate flawed and floundering ENDA taking center stage, it is imperative that we view ourselves beyond the relative comfort of our own borders, and recognize the dire consequences for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) family abroad and the part we have played in it. We are a catalyst for the backlash, as law and milieu in many parts of the globe have become increasingly harsh and unbearable.
San Francisco Pride 2014 has provided us, most appropriately, with this opportunity to “Color our World with Pride,” and we would be remiss if we did not participate with a full understanding of the stakes for our LGBTI family, who suffer insidious persecution abroad, at the hands of governments and populace alike.
Around the Globe we are Criminals:
Seventy-seven countries criminalize homosexuality, mostly through draconian penal codes, remnants of the old Colonial era. Some countries have sought to make these laws more onerous, while others have started to enforce the once sleepy laws with terrifying vigor.
To make matters worse, clergy, politicians and presidents have made homophobic comments that have served to fuel these fires. Much of the recent fervor to harshen these laws have been a direct response to what is perceived as the encroaching western ideals of LGBTI equality.
Out of 54 countries in Africa, 38 ban same-sex acts, with severe criminal penalties. Notwithstanding existing criminalization, Nigeria and Uganda took advantage of the newly heightened anti-gay sentiment, and their Presidents played gays as political pawns and scapegoats for the numerous social and economic problems when signing new anti-homosexuality legislation. Cameroon enforced penal codes with arrests and torture to force confessions, while Gambia, Namibia and other countries conducted frequent arrests.
Some of the New Laws:
The new Nigerian anti-homosexuality legislation, signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan, mandates a 14-year prison sentence for anyone entering a same-sex union and a 10-year term for “a person or group of persons who supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings.” In addition, public displays of affection by gay men and lesbians are also criminalized.
President Yoweri Museveni, in preparation for a vote that would deliver him his 30th year as Uganda’s President, patronized his NRM party with his assent to the astoundingly popular Anti-Homosexuality Act, once dubbed the “Kill The Gays Law,” which stipulates 14 years to life in prison for same-sex acts, as well as prison terms for so called “promotion” of homosexuality.
In both these countries the new legislation triggered a wave of persecution against LGBTI citizens, like never before. In Nigeria we saw a spate of arrests, public whippings and the stoning of gays. In Uganda, the most widely read East African newspaper celebrated the new law with a series of articles outing Uganda’s “Top 200 Homos.” Police arrested and paraded suspected gays in front of press and television cameras. Many LGBT people have had to flee from homes, schools and jobs, for fear of assault and death threats. And many have reported being black mailed by police and even friends.
In 2009 after the Delhi High Court brought an end to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code dating back to British rule, the LGBTI community rejoiced. However the celebration soon turned to disappointment when in December, the country’s highest court overturned the lower court’s ruling, once again making same-sex acts a crime punishable by up to ten years in jail, putting millions of Indians at risk of prosecution and persecution.
During the immediate post-Soviet period, Russia reflected a trend toward liberating its LGBTI community, with same-sex relationships decriminalized in 1993. However in recent years, and with some encouragement from the same U.S. anti-gay religious extremists who plagued Africa with their gay-hating rhetoric and active call for anti-gay legislation, Russian authorities have reversed the trend. Pride parade permits were routinely denied and LGBTI people were intimidated, assaulted and arrested by police, with government officials making extreme anti-LGBTI statements.
In June 2013, Vladimir Putin signed a new law passed by the Russian Duma, banning the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors. This law has been seen to give license to extremist vigilante groups who have targeted mostly gay men and transgender people with assaults, kidnappings, torture and outings that have resulted in severe injuries and many suicides.
The billionaire Sultan of Brunei, who owns the Dorchester Collection of Hotels, including the renowned Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel Air is implementing a Sharia-based penal code, which imposes death by stoning as a punishment for a series of crimes including same-sex activity.
These new laws, underpinned by false notions and horrendous myths of what it is to be LGBTI, were exported to countries by radical right wing Christian Evangelicals, such as Scott Lively and Lou Engle, who see their losses in the United States as a call to invigorate the globe with homophobia.
The American LGBTI community must take serious responsibility to participate in decrying these laws and help LGBT people who have become victims of this horrendous persecution. With some guidance by the human rights defenders in these regions, we have a duty to provide as much help as we can, including financial support and participation in educational programs. We must also advocate to change our own laws here in the United States, to create a means for LBGTI people who are living under threat of persecution, to reach our shores, so they can live their lives with absolute freedom to express one of the most basic of human rights- the right to one’s sexuality.