Fierce....It's one of those terms that has passed from the gay lexicon into main stream consciousness. When some one dresses to kill for a Saturday night out we can say that they "look fierce". Well I wouldn't...but you might. While few of us could define it if put on the spot, all of us know it when we see it. It's that invisible something that makes you stop and stare in awe and(hopefully) admiration. Online definitions list it as having the qualities of savagery, aggression, and violence. And yet there is another side to being fierce, one that has nothing to do with aggression or how we look on the outside and can only come straight out of the soul. It is that quality of intensity, courage, defiance, and a rock solid core of inner strength that shines through no matter what may be happening to us.
It is most often that measure of the word that makes us stand up and take notice. Individuals, who for one reason or another have make us stand up and cheer for their sheer grit. This week I was inspired and humbled by two stories that reminded me what the true definition of "fierce" is. The first is a report about a Pride event held in Uganda..."kill the gays" Uganda. And Second is the drama unfolding with gay rights in St. Petersburg Russia.
While both may seem on the surface to be unfolding tragedies of human rights....they have also both offered us beautiful glimpses into the heart of courage and how we survive....
St. Petersburg and Madonna:
Russian gays have never had an easy time of it. In protests or Pride marches, violence against them is always a very real and present possibility. If it's not from the onlooking crowd, then it's from the police who are there meant to keep the peace. And now the stakes have become higher as St. Petersburg recently passed a law banning anything it considers "gay propaganda"....a rather loose term that can include anything from the printed word, a pride march, or any public acknowledgment that gay people exist. Consequences can include fines and/or imprisonment for nothing more than saying the word "gay" out loud. My hat is off to anyone who stands up to be counted in Russia because I have seen the cost in images of bruised and bloody images. The gay community in Russia
This is the landscape that Madonna faced when playing in St. Petersburg recently. Everyone knows what to expect from a Madonna concert and her support of the gay community is well known. It was no suprise that a a government cracking down on anything they consider to be subversive gay propaganda would warn Madonna that they would take action against her if she violated their law. And of course Madonna being who she is, utterly ignored warning and announced that she was coming to St. Petersburg specifically to support the gay community. And furthermore, pink wristbands would be handed out at the concert to anyone who wanted to express their support for the gay community. This prompted threats by St. Petersburg City Councilman Vitaly Vilanov that he may attend the concert to "police its moral content"....and nasty cheap shots by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin that: "Every former whore seeks to lecture everyone on morality as she gets older."
I'm guessing they didn't know who they were talking to as all your going to get from Madonna for comments like that is a hearty "F-U" followed by a determination to see this through. The storm was brewing and the stage was set.
True to her word, Madonna came through(Towleroad):
LGBT organization Coming Out, printed 330 rainbow posters with the saying "No Fear" that were distributed to the crowd. Although some posters were confiscated by security, their display had a huge emotional effect during the show. Many fans raised them during Madonna's speech, and she reacted by saying "No Fear, that's right" before insisting that fear was the basis of all discrimination, and that tolerance could only be guaranteed by love, the opposite of fear. During the performance of "Like A Prayer", while dancers were raising a rainbow flag provided by a member of Coming Out and the Russian LGBT Network, Madonna took a "No Fear" poster from the crowd and raised it for 25,000 people to see. Same as for "Pussy Riot" support in Moscow, she had tattooed her back, this time with "No Fear." Gay bashing scenes from gay demonstrations in Russia, pictures of teenagers who died because of homophobia, and many gay and lesbian kisses were shown during the very political "Nobody Knows Me" Interlude Video.
Madonna's support was extremely moving. Most of the mostly heterosexual crowd reacted positively to her message by raising pink wristbands that were distributed to everyone to support the LGBT community. The LGBT in the audience received Madonna's support with both smiles and tears, and gratified her with the universal message "We love you" at the end of the show.
Russian gay activists are a hardy lot and you have to be to withstand the verbal and sometimes physical abuse that comes with the being visibly gay in Russia. What Madonna did should never outshine the work they do...nor the risks they take to win the right to live without persecution, discrimination, or violence. But I applaud her for taking the stand and hopefully forcing the conversation about gay people back out into the open in Russia. In this instance...both Madonna and the everyday actions of Russian LGBT people show me what it means to be "fierce."
Next up is a set of images posted at The Advocate portraying a publicly held Pride event held this last weekend in Uganda. I know I don't have to give any background to my readers about Uganda's recent history of persecution of it's gays nor of the "Kill The Gays Bill" which still looms as a possibility. However, it is important to remember that this is also a country that sees gay men and women turn up dead and dismembered for being gay on a regular basis. The death of David Kato being one such recent example. That is what makes events like these acts of fierceness and images like these so moving:
This image speaks for itself. I saw this and was blown away. This...is fierce...
Humble beginnings...tremendous courage. This is how its done....
Lots of glitter, good friends, and lots of smiles...this is a part of every great Pride celebration. How can you not fall in love with these pictures? I love there smiles and they are making me smile in return as I write this post. How much more valuable are these moments given the cost at which they come...
As a person who advocates for gay rights here in the U.S, following the struggles of other gay communities can leave you with a lot of mixed feelings. Sometimes it's rage mixed with utter helplessness...sometimes I feel very spoiled. But always I wish I could rush in and change things, either by the wave of a magic wand...or a well placed head butt. Not very diplomatic I know,but diplomacy doesn't seem to be very forefront in the mind of the people that would see us invisible either....what ever works.
I have written about both Uganda and Russia before...along with a handful of other nations that make life for LGBT people a daily struggle, Turkey and Saudi Arabia just to name a couple more(the full list is just too long and horrible). These are places where fighting for the right to marry is an unthinkable goal as of now. For many, activism means working toward a society in which it's safe to live...period, full stop. I have friends for whom my fervent wish is simply that they get to know what it's like to love and be loved...and to be able to live without violence...that is all that can be hoped for at this time. What kind of commentary is that about the world we live in and our place within it as gay,bisexual, and transgendered people? It seems we have so far to go and sitting on the other side of the Atlantic doesn't make this problem any less mine. I can not hold hands with my partner without the threat of someone attacking us...and until the day when violence is no longer a threat for any of us....we are all in this together.
Somewhere long buried in the archives is a post in which I blogged about living in America and fighting for something that seams so much like a luxury compared to what gays in Russia and Uganda are struggling to achieve. In that post a commenter put me in check and said that what happens here in America...and every battle we win...gives hope to them that such things are possible. It was a heartbreaking pill for me to swallow...and it still is. However, I have come to realize that at the same time, as we watch and read of the struggles of LGBT people in places like Uganda, you feel a kinship.....knowing that it is only bare decades from when we were undergoing similar protests...and Madonna was there for that too. And so it seems we are giving something very important to each other. That is why...whether you live in Uganda, Russia, or places like Saudi Arabia....you need to know that we are watching you too.....sometimes helplessly....but always with hope. We mourn for your tragedies and celebrate your happiness as if we are right there with you...because, in a way, we are.
Most of what I have heard coming out of Russia and Uganda has been bad news. That is why it meant so much to me to read about these events. All of the people featured in this story have put me in awe in one way or another and relit the flame of hope. They remind us of who we can be...who we are... when the chips are down. Anyone who can show that much strength with only a well place gay flag or glitter and a smile, blows me away and shows me of what it means to be truly fierce.
Until next time dear readers....