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Queer Berlin

Red Flag: Can Pride be a riot again?

Last Saturday, Berlin saw a thoroughly commercialised CSD — and a more radical alternative demo.

Internationalist Queer Pride drew upwards of 8,000 people to an alternative anticapitalist demo on July 23, 2022. Photo: Magda

Last Saturday, Berlin saw its first real Christopher Street Day since the arrival of Covid. Up to half a million people joined Pride, alongside floats from Mercedes-Benz Bank, PwC, SAP, Hewlett-Packard, and Commerzbank, to name just a few. It’s hard to imagine that this carnival of rainbow capitalism started 50 years ago with a riot.

One night in the summer of 1969, queer people in New York’s Greenwich Village began fighting back against constant police violence and harassment. For several glorious evenings, a riot shut down swaths of Lower Manhattan. On the first anniversary of the rebellion, in 1970, the first Gay Liberation March took place. Pride arrived in Berlin in 1979, with a total of 500 people at the initial CSD.

It’s hard to imagine that this carnival of rainbow capitalism started 50 years ago with a riot.

These were always events by and for radical leftists. New York activists spoke out for prisoners from the Black Panther Party. They even called themselves the Gay Liberation Front, in solidarity with the National Liberation Front of Vietnam. In Berlin, as recently as 1990, speeches at CSD expressed were dedicated to squatters and prisoners from the Red Army Faction.

In the span of 50 years, Pride conquered the mainstream — or has it been conquered by the mainstream? ‘Gay liberation’ has certainly arrived for a small number of wealthy gay white men. But the majority of queer people still have to deal with discrimination, along with low wages and rising rents.

As one famous sign at Pride in San Francisco in 1977 put it: “A gay landlord is still a landlord!” 

Today, police don rainbow ribbons and co-sponsor Christopher Street Day. Those same cops still deport refugees back to places where they face homophobic persecution. At Berlin’s CSD, some of the floats had security with Nazi tattoos! Cops, corporations and conservative politicians are never going to be dependable allies in the struggle against oppression.

On Saturday, just a few kilometres away from the official CSD, a demonstration in Kreuzberg took up the spirit of 1970. Berlin has seen different alternatives to the commercialised CSD for 25 years now, but this was only the second time that Internationalist Queer Pride has taken place.

Hermannplatz was filled with upwards of 8,000 people. Here, cops were not carrying little rainbow flags — they wore heavy armour and glared ominously at the crowd of queer and trans people, leftists and refugees. The dislike was mutual, as demonstrators chanted: “No justice, no peace, no racist police!” Banners said: “No cops at Pride!” There were no Nazi security guards either — just queer people in pink vests as stewards.

In the span of 50 years, Pride conquered the mainstream — or has it been conquered by the mainstream?

The demonstration was anticapitalist and anti-colonial. It included flags from Western Sahara, Kurdistan, Armenia, Palestine and numerous countries of Latin America; Wiphala and Mapuche flags represented different indigenous communities in Latin America. These waved alongside rainbow banners with hand-painted hammers and sickles, and at least one banner with Marx-Engels-Lenin.

In the spirit of true internationalism, there were large numbers of both Israelis and Palestinians. A popular and very funny slogan was: “Not gay as in happy but queer as in Free Palestine.” There was even one hand-painted sign expressing queer pride in Yiddish!

The anti-racist activists of Migrantifa marched next to a block of sex workers. Queer and trans hospital workers gave a speech about recent strikes for better working conditions. “We are also workers,” they said, ”and workers’ struggle is part of our queer struggle for liberation.”

In a press release, the local CDU accused this demonstration of ‘instrumentalising’ Christopher Street Day. Leftists at Pride?!? Quelle horreur! This is the same CDU that as recently as 2017 blocked the rehabilitation of all men convicted under Germany’s horrific Paragraph 175. This same party was blocking a long-overdue reform of Germany’s so-called Transexual Law just last year. But they cover themselves in rainbows whenever they think they can use it as an excuse to attack leftists, and especially non-German leftists.

That is something that struck me at the Internationalist Queer Pride: the demonstrators came from all over the world — but I heard very little German being spoken. Pride started when marginalised groups stood up for themselves. I think that’s what we saw at Internationalist Queer Pride. If cops and conservative politicians didn’t like it — well, that must mean we’re doing something right. 

Nathaniel Flakin’s anticapitalist guide book Revolutionary Berlin is available now from Pluto Press. 304 pages, €18.99 / £14.99.