Amsterdam’s LGBTQ+ community reflects on Pride as a form of protest

As Pride celebrations are compromised across the world, watch a short film, Pride Is Protest, on the event’s intersectional roots and personal resonance

This year, hundreds of Pride events have been cancelled around the world, from London to Sao Paolo and LA to Amsterdam, due to the coronavirus pandemic. In some cases – as in the Russian city of St Petersburg – this has meant shifting events online, or finding other ways to celebrate without being present in person collectively. 

The change in circumstances, however, has also provided a unique time to reflect on the origins of Pride itself, and how celebrations have changed or evolved since the Stonewall uprising in 1969. “2020 is a different kind of pride,” says Al Lewis, director of the short film Pride Is Protest. “Unable to strip off on the canals or party in the streets, we were left with the time to reflect and feel thankful that in Amsterdam the queer community is free to celebrate in that way.”

In Pride Is Protest, members of the LGBTQ+ community talk about Pride’s intersectional origins – “trans women of colour including Marsha P. Johnson and Stormé DeLarverie, who was a lesbian woman of colour, rose… it was an uprising” – and how it resonates with them personally.

The film also touches on the importance of Pride in this specific moment, when a wave of Black Lives Matter protests has filled city streets in the US and across the world, sparked by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and trans man Tony McDade. “In a year where the Black Lives Matter movement has gained such powerful traction, I wanted to centre the focus on protest,” adds Lewis, “on the human rights struggle the queer community is still up against today.”

Developed by a predominantly queer crew and supported by the Amsterdam-based Milkshake Festival, Pride Is Protest features voices from a diverse LGBTQI+ cast representing a variety of backgrounds; asylum seekers and trafficking survivors, designers, dragtivists, artists, and sex workers.

Johannes, a gay man who features in the film, grew up in a fundamental Christian household that made accepting his identity and sharing it with family a painful procedure, and now works to bring attention to the issue of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. “As a celebration, Pride is beautiful,” he tells Dazed. “It’s about community, about supporting others, about celebrating love and diversity, happiness and freedom. As a protest, Pride is about bringing those outside of the community along on our journey.”

For Johannes, coronavirus lockdown has brought the focus of Pride back to its roots in protest: “We couldn’t party, but leaders within our community did a wonderful job ensuring that our voices would be heard. Despite coronavirus and due to technology, thankfully I was able to participate in raising awareness.”

Victoria Caram, a trans woman and porn actor who also features in Pride Is Protest, has campaigned for LGBTQI+ reform in her home country of Argentina, which she was forced to leave as a victim of police persecution. Now living in Amsterdam, she also emphasises the importance of Pride as protest, saying: “Being a transsexual woman crossed by the intersectionality of colour, race, religion, and HIV status makes protest our only way of life known in order to be able to breathe tomorrow.”

Sletlana – a dragtivist and performance artist from Ukraine, whose first Pride celebration had to take place behind armed guards due to the threat of an angry mob – adds that though COVID-19 turned everyone’s lives upside down: “it helped me personally to understand the true sense of my own freedom, and what is important and what is not.”

“As a drag persona who is actively involved in the nightlife, and just as I am, I think I celebrate Pride every day. Just when I go out of my room or I go on stage, I remember that freedom is a privilege. This is my celebration.”

Watch Pride Is Protest in full above.