I had been looking forward to the recent Pride Parade in Dublin with excitement. Back in Russia, I had helped to organise Pride events, but had never actually taken part in a parade, as they were always banned by the authorities.
The police had even intervened during demonstrations on 1 May, when workers gathered and some leftist groups waved LGBT flags. This symbol of the gay liberation movement is banned there. Those who fly a rainbow flag are detained.
Unfortunately, when Pride Month started this year, I was sent to a particularly isolated direct-provision facility in the middle of the countryside. Still, I occasionally came back to Dublin for some Pride events and, of course, for the Pride Parade itself.
I took the fascinating guided tour across Dublin with the Irish Queer Archive. I felt privileged to hear the history of queer Dublin first-hand. I remembered myself guiding a similar tour across gay Saint Petersburg. It was emotional.
I also took part in what was, for me, an important event about the experiences of LGBT asylum seekers in direct provision. It was held at the exhibition dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the magazine GCN.
Finally, I attended the 15th anniversary of BeLonG To, where I learnt about the launch of World’s First LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy. Members of the LGBT community in Ireland have been so welcoming to me.
So, to crown all this, the Pride Parade was to be the first in which I marched. It started with a welcoming breakfast served up by the people at Outhouse. People who came to Ireland seeking for safety, and locals who had fought for rights here, shared this morning full of hope and courage.
We were a group of LGBT asylum seekers from all over the world. We decided to articulate our common demand for safe direct provision, where LGBTI asylum seekers would not have to fear threats and harassment, challenges we encounter every day in direct provision.
Our group was articulating a specific issue. Our banners read, “we are here”, “queer direct provision”, and “end direct provision”.
Some politicians backed us. LGBT+ people in direct provision “are terrified of coming out” as “the reaction is fairly vicious, there’s the bullying, the persecution, the sending to Coventry and probably a lot more than that”, said Sinn Féin Senator Márie Devine in GCN. “There’s fear of physical attacks […]”.
We were ready to march. For most of us, it was the first time in an explicitly LGBT event.
Before we could make our stand, though, we had to wait. We waited for hours for other groups to pass by – the majority were huge corporations, banks, chain shops and new media companies who used Pride to advertise.
One after another they marched, their corporate logos decorated with rainbows. Two hours later, we LGBT asylum seekers, and other LGBT community groups finally got our chance to move.
Most of those watching the parade, those we wanted to hear and see our messages so they could think about them, had already gone.
My first Pride parade wasn’t exactly as I expected. It wasn’t bad. I just felt something wasn’t exactly right.
LGBT Pride parades are political actions, a celebration of visibility, and a chance to share the current issues that LGBT people face. It was great see the people marching, see people applauding from the sidewalks.
And yet, it was odd that we had to wait for two hours for corporations’ advertisements – that they were given priority.
It made it feel like we had become invisible again. Staying in the shadow. Tired of waiting for so long. Would it make you feel odd? This was how I felt.
I guess, companies might be there, marching with us. It shows their openness, their commitment to take people as professionals and end discrimination at the workplace. But maybe they could make some way for urgent issues to be presented before their advertising?
What if human rights defenders, community organisations and vital campaigns for equality went first? There were great speeches on the stage in Smithfield at the end – particularly from Mary McAleese.
Other speakers talked about Pride as a protest. Let’s give the Pride Parade its original meaning back. Let’s never forget how it started. Let’s never forget the fear that those who were marching first, and those of us who live in fear and are marching for the first time, are feeling.
Let’s never forget about those who lived on this Emerald Isle under criminalisation, and those who are still living here under the fear of bullying, in the hostile environment of direct provision, under the fear of deportation.
Let’s stand together, as we know what it means to live as people who are not full citizens. Let’s go first and let the corporations join us in our journey, rather than lead us.
We need our lives to be visible. We are not all equal yet and, until we are, let’s march in solidarity and in protest.
Editor’s Note: When asked about the issues raised in this op-ed, Clodagh Leonard, chairperson of Dublin LGBTQ Pride, said: “Our policy was to place all community groups in the first half of the parade, due to the attendance at the parade being so much higher than expected there was some confusion on positions on the day and we apologise for that. We fully agree that the presence of commercial groups in the parade is to show their support for the community but never to overshadow it and committed to improving on this next year.”
The Dublin Pride Parade website says that “Community Groups Entries Go Free!” and then includes a schedule of charges for “Commercial Entries” that ranges from €500 for a small walking group to €5,000 for a float in “Zone 1”. The “marching order” for the parade does not show the asylum seekers’ group.