Madrid saw one of its most politically charged Gay Pride parades in recent years on Saturday, with hundreds of thousands of people rallying under the message “not one step back” in protest of the far-right group Vox, which is seeking to roll back LGBTQI rights.
According to organizers, around 1.6 million people attended the annual march, which left from the Paseo del Prado avenue at 6.30pm. The government delegation in Madrid, meanwhile, put the figure at 400,000.
This year, the parade – the climax of the Madrid Pride celebrations – was led by the first generation of LGBTQI activists, to honor the trailblazers who won greater rights for the community under the Spanish dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
“Everyone who is here today is fighting against the forces of LGBTQIphobia. In a fight, they will always find us on our feet,” said Boti García, 63, the former president of the National Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transexuals and Bisexuals (FELGTB), which organizes Gay Pride along with the Madrid Association of Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuals (COGAM).
This year, members of the Socialist Party (PSOE), anti-austerity group Unidas Podemos and the leftist Más Madrid were invited to both parts of the event: the protest, and the celebratory parade with floats.
But the right-wing Popular Party (PP) and center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) were barred from joining the parade over their dealings with Vox. After inconclusive municipal elections on May 26, the PP and Ciudadanos took control of Madrid City Hall thanks to the support of the far-right group, and are also in power in the Andalusian regional government thanks to a similar arrangement. The votes of the far-right party are also needed if the two right-wing parties are to govern in the regions of Madrid and Murcia.
Vox is a staunch opponent of LGBTQI rights. The party has campaigned to repeal articles in the gender violence law that protect the community, requested a list of the names of LGBTQI activists who give talks in schools in the Valencia region, and protested against the rainbow flag that was hung from Madrid City Hall in honor of Madrid Pride. Before the parade, Rocío Monasterio, a Vox deputy in the Madrid region, attacked Gay Pride for “denigrating the dignity of people.” “They impregnate the center with an unhealthy and unbearable stench,” she added.
To take a stand against the rise of Vox, organizers of Gay Pride stipulated that only political parties that had “not availed themselves of the far right to govern” were allowed to participate in celebratory part of the parade, thereby banning Ciudadanos and the PP from joining the celebrations.
Protest against Ciudadanos
Members of Ciudadanos – including the party’s parliamentary spokesperson, Inés Arrimadas, and the deputy mayor of Madrid, Begoña Villacís – decided to attend the march, despite the criticism the party has faced over its shift to the right. But they were stopped by a group of 20 protesters who blocked their path and told them to leave.
“In the video, protesters jeer at the Ciudadanos members who have decided to take part in Pride 2019.”
“In the video, dozens of protesters stop members of Ciudadanos from moving forward.”
The protesters were dressed like handmaids from the dystopian TV show The Handmaid’s Tale – where women are kept as sexual slaves. But instead of red robes, the group wore orange costumes to represent Ciudadanos.
“You are in Pride but you can’t be proud of yourselves,” Alfonso Moral, 45, told the Ciudadanos group. The protesters sat down in front of the Ciudadanos members to stop them from walking ahead, and for two hours yelled chants including: “They shall not pass;” “This is what happens if you deal with fascists;” “Get out;” “Our rights can not be negotiated;” and: “Here are the friends of Abascal,” in reference to Vox leader Santiago Abascal.
In the end, the Ciudadanos group had to be escorted by police to leave the event.
“They threw bottles, ice, glasses, everything at us… They are intolerant people who look a lot like the fascists that we have wanted to expel from Pride,” said Arrimadas after the incident.
Arrimadas later called for the resignation of acting Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska for “spreading hate” against Ciudadanos.
In response to the protest, COGAM said: “Obviously we don’t approve of people throwing objects,” and maintained that politicians have the right to join the protest “like anyone” and that “people [have the right] to respond against what the politicians do.”
The organization added: “If you are a party, and you attend a forum in defense of LGBTQI rights and you deal with those who want to curtail those rights, it’s obvious that there are going to people who want to say you are not welcome.”
On the day of the parade, two young men suffered homophobic abuse near the starting place of the march in Atocha. In the early hours of Saturday morning, a 45-year-old Spanish man was at an ATM with a woman, when the two men approached.
According a witness, the man allegedly turned around and called them “subhuman” and “piece of shit fags,” adding: “I am going to make you heterosexual with the beating I’m going to give you.” Witnesses said he then hit one of the men hard in the face. The accused fled but was arrested later by police. He has maintained that the attack was not motivated by homophobia, but because the two men had called the woman offensive names.
English version by Melissa Kitson.