Groningen Feminist Network members Emi Howard, a recent journalism graduate, Manuel Pinto Reyes, literature and culture studies, and Veerle Ros, of the Trans and Intersex Solidarity Action Group, are just a few of the local RUG student and alumni activists who came together to organise a queer Pride week in Groningen.
There hasn’t ever been a proper Pride in Groningen, but they say the idea of organising one has been floating around for a long time. ‘People were like, why don’t we just make this happen?’
If they were going to do it, they agreed, they had to do it right. And there are a lot of ways to do it wrong, says Manuel – especially by failing to platform minority voices within the LGBTQ community. So the organisers sat down and drafted four core principles to bring Pride back to its original activist roots.
Rooted in Protest
In June of 1969, New York City police staged a raid on the Stonewall Inn, which was known at the time to service the poorest and most marginalised members of the LGBTQ community. Targeted raids on gay bars were common, but this time patrons fought back. The following days and weeks were marked by violent demonstrations and protests against the oppression of the LGBTQ community. The first Pride parade was held two years later to commemorate the anniversary of what became known as the ‘Stonewall Riots’.
Those principles have been met with some criticism. The organisers have been accused of excluding people who disagree with them and of replacing LGBTQ concerns with left-wing political concerns.
But they think those worries are rooted in a misunderstanding of their project. They clear it all up in an interview with the UKrant.
What makes Queer Pride Groningen different from other Prides in the Netherlands?
Manuel: We wanted our Pride to take an anti-stance against the commercial, party-centered trend in the Netherlands.
Veerle: Large Pride events tend to have a lot of corporate sponsors. That leads to a phenomenon called ‘pink-washing’, when corporations that aren’t otherwise involved with advocating for queer rights get to wave the rainbow flag and make their organisation look like it’s helping LGBTQ minorities.
Emi: For example, last year British Airways sponsored the London Pride while helping to deport queer asylum seekers.
Manuel: Right. And Grindr was bought by a conglomerate and is now owned by a straight man who opposes gay marriage. The interplay of capital and gay identities has become really quite absurd, where people who are against gay marriage are profiting directly from gay men and the queer community.
These are the kind of structural issues that we want our Pride to draw attention to: the way that queer and minority and anti-capitalist identities are commodified under capitalism.
Some students who do identify as LGBTQ don’t identify with anti-capitalism. How do you respond to the worry that LGBTQ concerns are being replaced with left-wing political concerns?
Manuel: If we don’t talk about how our identities are commodified, we lose our power to define ourselves. The question we have to ask is: how do we maintain this power?
Veerle: I really object to the idea that our Pride is, like, a Marxist takeover of an LGBTQ event. Especially in the core team, everyone is part of the LGBTQ community. It’s not like we are some outside political group with secret motives to push some kind of cultural-Marxism agenda. We are simply standing for the things that we believe in. There is no hidden conspiracy.
Emi: What we are is a group of queer and trans people who are trying to make the most fair and inclusive event we can think of.
The second core principle is about ‘active inclusion’ but it lists everyone who isn’t welcome, including ‘pink-washing or right-wing’ individuals and groups. Some students worry that means they can’t attend. Is that the case?
Manuel: We hear that a lot. People will complain that our principle of inclusion is exclusionary.
Emi: Yeah; they will ask ‘how can you be inclusive if you’re not allowing right-wing people to join?’ But it’s not like we can screen people.
Manuel: And what we mean when we say ‘inclusive’ is that we want to be inclusive specifically of power minorities, the people who have been historically excluded from having a platform. It’s not like we won’t let powerful, white, right-wing people attend. But if you’re there to propagate exclusionary politics, that’s what we don’t want – because we don’t want to be complicit in providing a platform for exclusion.
Veerle: In a way, everyone is welcome. But we do not tolerate right-wing groups who want to represent their group at our Pride. If you vote for a central or right-wing party in the Netherlands and you feel like you really want to join because you identify strongly with the label of queerness or one of the LGBTQ labels – then you are of course very welcome to join us.
What would you say to students who want to come out to show support but aren’t sure, after reading your core principles, that they have enough of the ‘right ideas’ to be an acceptable ally?
Emi: I think that’s a really common misconception – that people in activist communities think they are ideologically perfect, that they have it all figured out, that they’ve reached the final goal. But that’s not the case at all. It’s about continually being open to learning. All of us are at different stages in the process.
Veerle: I feel strongly that anyone who feels like they need this kind of space should have access to it, whoever they are.
Manuel: Allying should be thought of as a verb. You can participate in our projects without aligning with our ideas – though that would be ideal. But it’s really about helping out where we ask you to help out.
Is there anything else you wish students knew about this year’s Queer Pride Groningen?
Emi: It might be political, but it will definitely also be a party! The programme is amazing.
Groningen Pride week kicks off with a party at Homoost today, Friday May 24. The Pride parade will be held on Saturday, June 1. You can find the rest of the programme on Queer Pride Groningen’s Facebook page.