Note: The Young Queer Alliance does not promote Islamophobia or any other form of hate towards people of diverse faiths, identities or no faiths. The YQA is aware that spaces need to be inclusive even among LGBTQ people who have strong faiths, and by promoting hate towards religion(s) these people will not feel safe and included. Views expressed in this article, while not necessarily reflective of the YQA position, has been edited to present the situation in a lesser emotional and more rational way.
02 June 2018: I was amongst them… perplexed and nervous. Were we supposed to be here? I felt the shiver, the tense ambiance. Everyone seemed to be concerned but then my eyes scanned around; those radiant colors, the quibbles, the festivities and of course, those charming men, it was all here! Not giving a f*ck! A rush went through my veins and I was determined to make it happen… after all we were here to celebrate love! Let them dare… they can’t stop it now… – Diaries of a Gay Man in Mauritius
They were many to join the celebrations on the 2nd of June 2018, the day chosen to host the annual LGBT Pride, like accustomed to – the first Saturday of June. Dressed in casuals but ‘tip-top’ (awesome) attitude, everything was prepared to launch the event and announce the start of the parade. The nervousness was no new feeling for one attending the Pride; from fears of being seen or of some mishap to the thrill of the moment. Yet, they all knew… something was wrong!
Let us go back a few days before the 2nd of June to establish a sequence of events.
Out of nowhere, a Facebook profile with an untraceable identity, posted a blasphemous note: “Allah is G*y” on a well-known Facebook group. Reactions and counter-reactions plummeted here and now from the group members, some Islamophobic in nature others Homophobic; like a heated telereality show between the pro and anti-LGBTQ people. The irresponsibility of the group administrators to be totally at fault, the ensuing day, a coalition of Mosques and Civil Society Organizations made a statement to law enforcement authorities around the post with the hope that actions will be taken and that Islamophobia not tolerated in a multi-racial and multi-ethnic country whereby Mauritians consist of Hindus, Muslims, Chinese and the General Population. The constitution was written and the country’s independence was won from British colonizers through ethnical and racial representation to ensure peace, harmony, nation building, especially after the disturbing racial riots before independence.
The law enforcement officers, following the legal course of actions and for safety and security reasons, deemed it wise to call for the Pride march to be cancelled in their right. They however allowed for the gathering at the Caudan to be held where LGBTQ people could gather. We are on Thursday, 31st May 2018.
On the protests from LGBTQ people and Pride organisers, negotiations started with authorities, the next day, the law enforcement authorities allowed for the March to take place. Friday the 1st June 2018, LGBTQ people expressed their happiness. Little were they aware of Friday sermons in Mosques condemning the blasphemy of the post on Facebook; and the highly condemning stand of Mosques towards the Parade with the usual stories of Sodom and Gomorrah. The counter-organisation, while not through Mosques but influenced by the Friday sermons, shaped to something never seen before in Paradise Island.
Nowhere could we hear, publicly, from the Temples, the Churches, the Pagodas, the NGOs, law enforcement authorities and LGBTQ led NGOs, condemning both the hate towards Muslims and LGBTQ people; save for some Mosques condemning the post on Facebook. In times of crisis, this might have changed the whole situation for the better. Maybe, being the 13th Pride, no one felt that the situation was out of hand.
We are the 2nd June 2018, at Caudan. Pride organisers informed on the eve that the March will take place following successful negotiations with law enforcement authorities and during the day, festivities will occur at the Caudan Waterfront. Amidst the fears, this sparked the interest back among LGBTQ people and allies who set forth for the fun extravaganza. The booming music, radiant & colourful banners and individuals dressed in the most glamourous styles were indubitably a delight, a sight worth seeing! The celebrations were on. Human Rights were being celebrated… love was being celebrated by 400 hopeful souls. But there was something sinister brewing on the other side.
LGBTQ and allies gathered at Caudan for Pride 2018
Seizing their banners, anti-LGBTQ protesters marched towards the Caudan Waterfront, to stop at Place d’Armes. Who were they? What did they want? Their motive was no mystery – they aimed at stopping the March. Rumours started by Pride organisers of weapons being found at Place d’Armes did not help in decreasing the hostility of the anti-LGBTQ protesters not did this help in calming down LGBTQ people gathered bounded between the sea and Place d’Armes. Any sensible person would better know to prioritise security and having a situation under control rather than wishing for a mimicking of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York, USA! Logically thinking, would the 50 and counting law enforcement authorities not have arrested any person being found in possession of illegal weapons at the Place d’Armes?
While law enforcement authorities managed to contain the 400 anti-Pride protestors at Place d’Armes a few hundred metres from the Pride gathering and prevent any physical violence, with the good hours of persistence of anti-protestors to camp on their position, the Pride organisers finally gave in decided to cancel the rally. Shouts of victories resounded at Place d’Armes while tears and emotions filled the Caudan Waterfront.
Anti-LGBT protestors at Place d’Armes for Pride 2018
“Monn peur ler monn conner ki ena bann dimoune p proteste akote Caudan… Mo ti p rode ale lakaz!” (I was afraid when I got to know that there are people who are protesting near Caudan… I wanted to go home!) mentions Kevin*, a supporter at the Pride. Fear during these instants was felt by everyone. The music and lively ambiance was mere the shroud concealing their fears.
Even if the day ended without any bloodshed, Pride 2018 has been known as one of the darkest events in the history of LGBTQ community in Mauritius. While some were still not able to face the reality of some people in Mauritius, others could not stop voicing out their anger. “Nou osi humain et nou bizin enn tigit respe osi! Si demain sa bann fanatique la koner zott zenfen gay, zott pu met banal dehor… cest nou ki pu embrace zott et acceuile zott lamain ouver!” (We are humans too and we demand respect! If tomorrow those fanatics know their children are gay, they will kick them out. We are the ones who will embrace these homeless children and welcome them with open arms!) exclaims Samantha*.
Vipine Aubeeluck, secretary of Young Queer Alliance, an organization striving for human rights and LGBT awareness in Mauritius was stunned on the Pride’s plight. Sharing some words in dismay, he points out some striking words during an exclusive interview.
Aubeeluck Vipine, Secretary at the YQA.
“Whatever happened during the Pride 2018 is something I would categories as extremely dangerous and simply nonsensical! A total waste of resources and energy. I have always come across articles that Islam is a religion of peace… I wouldn’t deny that but if you follow the news, the videos and all interviews of the extremists that dared defile the Pride, I cannot see a single essence of peace or love amongst that. Is that what they wish to project? I would never allow someone to tag a religion as hostile but what if the religion adopts such ways that you start questioning it?
I was shocked by the way the authorities and government dealt with the issue. I mean, come on, it is something serious we’re talking here! I should be considered not as a member of the LGBTQ but as an individual when it comes to such affairs. If I have death threats and I need protection, I will hope that the authorities and government alike will assist and protect me from the vices. However, the way they dealt with it showed that I can no longer trust them.
Q: Anything you would like to say to the LGBT Community?
Not to the LGBTs but to the Government… Silence will kill us all but even if we’re voicing out… we require your ears to hear our plea!
Pride in Mauritius will never be the same again. Once the 400 anti-LGBTQ people having stopped the March, on the basis of constitutional provisions, we know they will be there for years to come to stand as a wall to human rights, dignity and freedoms. Is it the death of Pride? The struggle will be a harsher one; for sure. Threats will continue and the opposition will be fiercer if we do not extend our hands and stop the hate against LGBTQ people or others being oppressed due to their faiths. Pride will shine; yet without a March, pride is not really pride.
Despite these, amidst the death threats that followed Saturday, 2nd June 2018 to activists, there is still a vibrant rainbow of hope arcing the skies. The LGBTQ community received lots of support from Mauritians through social media. A bit late, but surely, the Council of Religions, Churches and association of Mosques, while condemning the act of Sodomy, said they would welcome someone who is Gay and not shun them aside. In a country where sexuality is a taboo in families, discussions about sexuality and sexual identities echoed in homes. Hope is born!