Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride
Directed by Bob Christie
Reel Queer Film Festival, Vic Theatre, Victoria
June 30, 2013
Reviewed by Andrea Routley
It was a quiet evening at the Vic Theatre, not surprising for a Sunday night in Victoria. Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride was the final screening at the first Reel Queer Film Festival, organised by the Victoria Film Festival. I almost didn’t go because I was sucked into a TV series on DVD. But I thought, “Do I want to watch HBO actors call women cunts all night, or deepen my understanding and appreciation of a global human rights movement that has secured my legislative freedoms?” Yeah. I should go.
In this feature length documentary, director Bob Christie follows Vancouver Pride Parade director Ken Coolen, along with several VPS colleagues, as they travel to places where Pride is still steeped in protest, and even where queer sexualities are still criminalised. The group experiences first-hand the violent threats of anti-gay protestors in Warsaw, Moscow, and Budapest, and witnesses Equal Ground’s kite-flying Pride action in Colombo, Sri Lanka, an event which is only advertised after it has happened in order to protect those brave enough to attend. In Sri Lanka, homosexuality is still punishable with up to ten years in prison, and “curative rape” is a “common practice.”
Beyond Gay connects the Pride celebrations in cities like Toronto and Vancouver to a wider global movement with a call to action to support human rights around the world. Ken Coolen, a likeable big guy with a gentle demeanour, meets courageous activists around the world. In Moscow, he praises the group, led by Nikolai Alekseev, for their bravery, asserting, “You are not alone” as he shares a binder full of signatures from Canadian government officials for the Declaration of Montreal on LGBT Human Rights. The fear is palpable in many scenes, especially the action in Moscow where secret locations and meeting spots were necessary simply for a small group of people to stand outside the Tchaikovsky Conservatory with rainbow flags, and then walk 120 feet before dispersing to avoid violence. The anti-gay protestors and media showed up at the decoy location. Violence erupted when a Pride organiser responded to a media question by affirming that he was with an LGBT organisation. He was immediately pushed, and beaten.
The film is full of these heart-breaking struggles and testimonials, as well as awe-inspiring triumphs. Energetic club music scores much of the film, suggesting urgency while also evoking the intensity of Pride celebrations, and its origins in Stonewall. The music was at times heavy-handed: sombre piano music scores moments of reflection, which causes them to verge on campy. In these scenes, I think a “moment of silence” in the music would have been more effective, an austerity to convey the coarse reality of the human rights violations.
The motivations for the film are easy to understand. Pride celebrations in North American have come under much criticism for their commercialisation, which many feel demonstrates how we have “lost our way.” I often hear people cite A&W’s visible parade sponsorship–a restaurant that assigns heteronormative gender roles even to hamburgers– as an example of all that is wrong with Pride today. This year in Victoria, one group responds to the current state of Pride by hosting Alt Pride Community Festival, which was “formed as a reaction against experiences of oppression, exclusion, and lack of accountability during pride events and within queer communities.”
I’m not sure how I will feel about Pride this year. Things have changed a lot since I first marched in a Pride Parade. It was 1997, and I was sixteen. I walked behind a float blaring “We Are Family,” a drag queen in a purple spandex gown and silver wig waving to the crowds. But the cheers always swelled for us, the youth group, the only LGBT youth group I knew of, one which met at Bute and Davie in Vancouver’s West End Friday nights. (To attend, I had to travel for three hours on public transit, with no way of getting home before the buses stopped running.)
That was the first and only Pride Parade I marched in. This right to assemble and celebrate our diversity is one that many of us take for granted.
Andrea Routley is the editor of Plenitude Magazine, Canada’s queer literary magazine.