In the past few months following the death of American George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, the world has experienced a wave of protest unlike anything seen since the civil rights movement of the 1960’s in the United States of America.
Like the protests in the states over police brutality and discrimination against people of colour and minorities, so too have protests for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community continued. The annual pride parade Christopher Street Day stands out as such an example in Germany.
10 years ago, Judith Butler, American philosopher and gender theorist whose work has influenced political philosophy, ethics, and the fields of third-wave feminist, queer, and literary theory, was honoured by the Christopher Street Day’s organisers with the Civil Courage Award.
Butler famously turned down the honor, stating at the time:
“I must distance myself from complicity with racism, including anti-Muslim racism.”Judith Butler
To the shock of many and the satisfaction of the often overlooked within the LGBTQ+ community, Butler had made clear that divisions within the broader LGBTQ+ community not only exist, but that pride events cater to privileged communities.
Datingroo examines discrimination in similar events like CSD, following up 10 years after Butler’s declaration, to see if CSD has moved beyond the criticism she leveled against them.
Discrimination Numbers for Migrant LGBTQ+ people in Europe and African Americans in the US show parallels
LesMigraS, a group based in Berlin that works against discrimination and violence of Lesbian/bisexual Migrants, Black Lesbians and Trans*People, found that the largest number of migrant members of the LGBTQ+ community within Germany was in Berlin (27.2%) and North Rhine-Westphalia (18.3%). The average age is 33 years and the vast majority live in cities or some sort of urban area.
Discrimination was a central focus in the study, wherein the migrant group with the least amount of discrimination reported were lesbian / bisexual individuals.
However, over a quarter (28.4%) of Trans individuals stated that they were not accepted or actively discriminated against on a day-to-day basis. 50% of participants reported that the place where they experienced the most discrimination was at training and workplaces.
The negative reactions in offices and with authorities tend to be higher than in other areas of life for migrant members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially within the Trans community.
On average, 35.5% detail experiences of rejection or active discriminated against them. 63% of the migrant Trans respondents shared that it is very stressful for them, often being labelled as having a “psychological disorder”.
This is despite the fact that, according to
LesMigraS’s survey, most participants (63.2%) have a high school diploma or a university entrance qualification and 45.9% have a university of applied sciences or university degree.
Additionally, 28.3% have occupational
This means that even with their education and advantages, discrimination is still a deep-rooted
problem for migrant LGTBQ+ people, especially the further marginalized Trans community.
Separately, pewresearch.org, a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world, did their
own research on the experiences of discrimination for African Americans.
When compared to the numbers in LesMigraS’s own survey, a surprising
similarity was found in the number of African Americans who reported discrimination in their own workplaces and training, with 45-52% stating they had experienced some form of hiring, pay, or promotion discrimination. Further, over 50% of African Americans report people subjecting them to slurs or jokes, and again 50% having feared for their personal safety because of who they are.
This is not to say that their experiences are identical or that discrimination is the same for all groups, but the common thread of experience these marginalized groups share intersects with an average
percentage of people reporting discrimination.
These numbers are more than worrying, and they hint at widespread problems that both protests and celebrations of pride address in their concerted efforts to improve the quality of life for people around the world. This does not mean, however, that these events are without their own failings and criticisms, as Butler highlighted at the Christopher Street Day in Berlin.
50% of migrant LGBTQ+ individuals reported that the place where they experienced the most discrimination was at training and workplaces.
45-52% of African Americans stating they had experienced some form of hiring, pay, or promotion discrimination.
Judith Butler’s refusal of the Civil Courage Award
In her refusal of the award, Butler notes that not just homosexuals, but also ‘bi, trans and queer people can be used by those who want to wage war: cultural wars against migrants through cultivated Islamophobia and military wars’, referring to her impression of how organisers used the event to push for their own political beliefs against immigration, migrants, and people of colour.
Specifically, Butler is referring to a preference by organising committees such as Maneo, an organisation that focuses on the empowerment, as well as aid for victims of homophobia, for accepting homosexual pairings at the expense of others. The underlining idea is that same-sex relationships can often be used as a form of teaching tolerance to those who are believed to be lacking it, which for certain groups meant assuming that immigrants who need to be taught this were coming from already homophobic Muslim cultures.
Groups like Maneo strove to fight homophobia in this way through fighting against other minorities, according to Katharina Hamann.
In ignoring the problematic effect this has on Christopher Street Day and other Pride events around the world, the world has seen a mainstream, almost commercialized approach taken to events surrounding the LGBTQ+ community.
As a result, there is a distinct risk of a homogenized representation of diverse groups facing unique challenges.
By extension, she is referring to the shared experiences of marginalized groups who, when in systems that should be working to serve and protect them, instead relegate them to the periphery and discriminate them.
It is a problem still today for marginalized LGBTQ+ groups and for the black community worldwide who face systemic oppression.
Butler’s refusal was not just a refusal of an award she felt should be better given to these communities, but a vocal and very public stance taken in support of marginalized communities everywhere.
Responses to Butler’s criticism of Christopher Street Day
In response to Judith Butler’s public critique, organizers were quick to respond with dismissive assertions that they were not acting in any sort of racist or divisive fashion.
Speaking to the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, Robert Kastl, the general manager of the CSD committee, firmly rejected the allegations: “It is completely absurd and unsound, we are massively opposed to any form of racism.”
The CSD – Organizers would explicitly distance themselves from Islamophobia in the gay and lesbian community – “which sometimes exists,” says Kastl.
However, Butler is not on her own in criticizing the organization of such events as Christopher Street Day. German television actor Stephan Reck also believes that pride events like Christopher Street Day have become too commercial and too apolitical.
Not one person of colour among the 20 people of the recent Berlin CSD organisation team.
When the reality of multiple kinds of discrimination crop up little is done to combat it, leaving transsexual and other groups behind in favor of a broader, more commercialized form of homosexual representation.
Reck adds that “Many projects only have gay men in mind.”
At the time, Butler suggested the award would be better given to the people of colour organisations who deserved it more than her. Butler suggested a few groups who are known for their progressive work, including GLADT, LesMigraS, SUSPECT and ReachOut.
An academic perspective on what happened at the CSD and why
Datingroo interviewed Cultural Studies researcher Maxi Albrecht of the Graduate School of North American Studies at Freie Universität Berlin to gain insight into not only Butler’s criticism of CSD and the socio-cultural politics its organization finds itself in, as well as the intersectional origins that spurred on Butler’s decision and are irrevocably tied to the current Black Lives Matter protests around the world.
What is your analysis on Butler’s decision to turn down the Civil Courage Award?
From the press coverage I have seen after Judith Butler turned down the award, a lot of focus was given to her critique of the Berlin CSD being too commercial. What struck me about her speech more, however, was her focus on critiquing the lack of intersectional political effort in the CSD.
“Examples of this lack of intersectional political effort on the behalf of the CSD includes a lack of outreach for migrant LGBTQ+ people and a preference for a more mainstream depiction of the LGBTQ+ community (gay white males who are middle class).”Maxi Albrecht, cultural studies researcher at FU Berlin
In addition, Butler’s response was spurred on by the involvement of Maneo, whose media campaigns repeatedly represented migrants as ‘archaic’, ‘patriarchal’, ‘homophobic’, violent, and unassimilable.
And what is intersectional politics? How is it related to Christopher Street Day and the current BLM movement?
Coined by the Black feminist scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in the late 1980s, intersectionality wants to draw attention to different forms of oppression associated with differing identity categories – gender, sexuality, class and social status, race and ethnicity, age, (dis)ability, and so on.
The important point being that these can overlap, or intersect, and therefore create combinations of disadvantages, marginalization, and oppression.
You see this going on in protests across the states and worldwide as discrimination and marginalization are being tackled. People are standing up against racism, violence, and the kind of discrimination that these communities have suffered from for far too long.
What are the origins of this theory and how is it tied to what Butler was speaking about?
This type of critique arose after the social movements of the 1970s and is often attributed to feminists of color pointing out that certain types of mainstream feminism do not sufficiently take into account that women of color, or women from the working class, for instance, face multiple forms of discrimination. Judith Butler’s critique of the Berlin CSD and her refusal to accept the civil courage award ultimately points to this very issue.
“This type of critique arose after the social movements of the 1970s and is often attributed to feminists of color pointing out that certain types of mainstream feminism do not sufficiently take into account that women of color, or women from the working class, for instance, face multiple forms of discrimination.Maxi Albrecht, cultural studies researcher at FU Berlin
Judith Butler’s critique of the Berlin CSD and her refusal to accept the civil courage award ultimately points to this very issue. “
So why did Butler turn down the Civil Courage Award?
The first reason she names is the organizers’ implication in racist statement and an insufficient retraction of those, but the main argument goes deeper than such individual accusation, as she praises local activist groups that fight on the front of multiple discrimination against homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism and militarism.
But isn’t the point of Christopher Street Day to celebrate these communities? What is Butler’s point in attacking the organizers?
The point being that even parts of progressive movements can fall short of accounting for complex social pressures and violence. The renowned African American feminist Angela Davis, when asked about the controversy by a member of Suspect, one of the groups praised by Butler, expressed her
hope that it would serve as a catalyst for more discussion even among groups that are considered progressive.
So, for both CSD and BLM, Butler’s refusal of the award and criticism of the organizers carries the wish that discourse can improve these events for all communities?
I think that is one of the important points here and how I ultimately analyze Butler’s speech and especially her praise for the groups that do engage with intersectional struggles: it’s the possibility and the hopefulness of change, even if the work is harder and more complex. This is what we have been seeing recently in the United States of America and around the world today.
Pride and Protest today
10 years later, Christopher Street Day faced a unique situation where its organizers wanted the LGTBQ+ community to participate online via streaming. This decision came as a result of the safety measures taken by German authorities against the Covid-19 Corona pandemic which has, to date, killed more than 400,000 people worldwide.
However, alternative CSD organizers have recently released a statement that another CSD event will go on for public participation on the 27th of June this year.
Although it was a reasonable precaution for the CSD organizers to take and would allow them some measure of celebration, questions remain: Has the CSD stepped away from the discriminatory practices Butler was so critical of, or has it maintained them?
Further, does the online streaming of CSD introduce new forms of discrimination that further divides the LGBTQ+ community? And what does this mean when we consider that mass protests have been going on in the USA despite the concerns Covid-19 raised?
Evidence thus far seems to suggest that the CSD has maintained its status quo, failing to successfully broaden its outreach in a way that truly incorporates all folds of the LGBTQ+ community as well as those who are marginalized.
This can be seen in the continued debate and discourse on the event’s mainstream commercialization and emphasis on a particular brand of gay and lesbian individuals.
It is a problem that protests and pride events around the world struggle with as intersectionality demands a broader and more inclusive approach to organized events and society.
The overlap of the protests by Black Lives Matter in the United States of America and an event like Christopher Street Day is an intersection of race, class and income, sexual orientation, and migration.
The progress that has been made since Butler’s refusal of the Civil Courage Award 10 years ago seems marginal in and of itself, but progress is made a step at a time and time will yet tell what the full impact of her actions were.
A movement forward
It is not the intent of this writing to badmouth Christopher Street Day or other pride events. On the contrary, they are wonderful examples of progress toward social equality and fair treatment and serve as a way to celebrate communities who may all too often be ostracized. Events like Christopher Street Day are needed and do a lot of good for the world.
However, it is concerning when forms of discrimination work themselves into the development of these events and their practice in subtle yet powerful ways. For the marginalized groups who turn to such events as a way for their voices to be heard, when perhaps they may not have any other means to, it can be devastating to find barriers in place that restrict their voice and presence. The fear over Covid-19 was not unreasonable, but it presented concerns over a diverse community’s ability to push, once again, values that progress society toward something egalitarian and harmonious.
In the wake of the protests going on in the states, where millions of people – black, white, Asian, and Hispanic – have decided to come together. The sight of millions taking the risk of contracting the Corona virus to stand and march against violent, systemic racism and dangerous marginalization is inspiring and historic. We can only hope the participants at this year’s CSD see the protests as a catalyst for their own reformation.
Whether or not the future Christopher Street Day, 10 years after Butler’s public criticism sparked discourse and debate about it, will prove to have moved well beyond these issues is something that only time can tell.
One can only hope that Christopher Street Day will provide a more inclusive and accessible experience for all members of the LGBTQ+ community as people around the world protest and march for a better future.
Author: Joseph Deckard