Friday, July 4, 2008

Budapest Pride & Mr Gay Europe 12 hr count down

My heart is bounding and feels like it is going to break through my rib cage at any moment. My veins are bubbling with adrenalin and my fingers quiver at my keyboard. I sit in my hotel room at the Ramada Budapest as I try and collect my thoughts from the past couple days.

I was invited to be an International Judge to represent North America in the 2008 Mr. Gay Europe Competition as 20 young men from all across Europe compete for the title and honor to be the 2008/09 Gay Ambassador of this continent. I was excited to have this opportunity in helping choose that Ambassador who will take charge and lead his community in the year to come. I was excited to go to Eastern Europe and one of the gayest welcoming Eastern European cities – Budapest. I was also thrilled to learn that we, Mr. Gay Europe, would be marching in the 13th annual gay pride parade to celebrate how far we have come in winning more equality and breaking down the negative stereo types. This is how I felt a mere three days ago (July 1st – Canada Day).

July 2nd had my first meeting with the organizers of Mr. Gay Europe – Tore & Morten both from Norway. They welcomed me with open arms and were very excited to see me. I arrived late in the afternoon – six hours late as my initial flight in the morning was cancelled due to Lufthansa Airlines doing a rotating strike. I saw in their faces that they were stressed, but only thought it was because I was not on my intended flight and their driver could not locate me. I later learned that my delayed flight was the least of their concern.

July 3rd I write an email to my dear friend Ken who has just recently come back from Moscow Pride. A Pride that was “intense” and knew that he would be able to understand what I was about to say. I wrote, “Just have to tell you.... I am totally freaked out about the parade this coming weekend. We had an unexpected visit by the Ambassador of Norway (Mr. Gay Europe is a registered company in Norway) and they are very concerned about our participation in the parade and are advising us not to participate. It sounds like it could be really bad. The film crews I have been in touch with are starting to have second thoughts as well. It is quite emotional. Everyone is freaked out. I do not think I was really prepared for this battle!”

I have to stop as my eyes start to well up with tears. I am having such crazy emotions. I am not an emotional person. I cannot believe my eyes are tearing and my nose is running like Shannon Falls in the spring. I went on to say, “To put it into context.... we are advised to wear full body armor and helmets and have umbrellas to keep the eggs and other shit off of us. This is totally insane. The Ambassador asked me what will happen to Mr. Gay Canada or GayWhistler if I get seriously hurt. How will that serve my local community? Is this the battle you want to wage at this time - or is there another battle you can prepare for? Such heavy thoughts.” I send off the email and go to bed… my body tweaking with nervous energy like I have never experienced before.

July 4th (today) with just a few hours sleep I spring awake and prepare to meet the 20 delegates of Mr. Gay Europe. The organizers want me to share the trailer of “Beyond Gay – the Politics of Pride” so they can have a better understanding of what Saturday’s parade may look like. We all enjoy breakfast together and then I play the video – the room grows silent as the delegation watches intently. Some of the delegates feel sick to their stomachs as they had no idea that places like Belarus and Moscow have it so bad. It was a fascinating experience to see these young men come alive and get clarity as to why they have assembled here in Budapest, to be Mr. Gay Europe takes on a clearly meaning for many of them. There is a plethora of emotions of wanting to march and stand by their Hungarian brothers & sisters to support and be strong in solidarity with them and at the same time terrified – real terror of what will happen. I leave the delegation and head off to the next venue and have a Judges meeting on today’s interview rounds. An hour later we welcome the delegates for 5 minute interviews and many were still reeling from the video that had just seen. The competition has changed.

I have some down time and take in the Holocaust Museum – what was I thinking?! As I walked through the facility I kept thinking it is so easy to replace the word “Jew” for “Gay” – is this really happening? I head down to one of the Budapest Public Baths to try and regroup in the energizing mineral baths.

At 6PM I meet with Tore, Executive Producer of MGE and he informs me that the film crew has pulled out as they are fearful of Saturday’s event. Intelligence is suggesting that there will be over 3,000 anti-gay protestors ready to “crush and destroy the fags.” Desire Dubounet, a local Trans Celebrity sends a message to Adam the local producer of the event and they are mobilizing their own body guards to help protect us in addition to the already 400 police officers assigned to protect Mr. Gay Europe, plus another 1,000 armed forces to protect the parade. The local group sees the importance of documenting these events and sharing with the world in hopes that this will some how make a difference and stop these fascists. If it is not the Gays then who is next? The film project is back on.

6.35PM Tore gets a call from Interpol to reconfirm their earlier conversation that the MGE Grand Finale at Coca Cabana is a legitimate target. The local Budapest police are unable to confirm if they will have enough resources to keep the delegation and guests safe. The situation is way more volatile and dangerous than we had anticipated. The local producers have been spending all afternoon making new plans and at 7.40PM the organizers make the difficult decision and cancel the Grand Finale at Coca Cabana. Instead we will have to post it to a new secret location and will have to be very careful on how the information is shared. The organizers inform the group – the thunder of everyone’s hearts pounding against their rib cages was deafening. What is supposed to be an exciting and fun event has turned extremely serious. The intelligence MGE has been able to gather indicate that this could be more than just violent, but could in reality get deadly. The local news reports on the parade route but refer to it as the anticipated “battle ground – a blood bath.” We are told to walk in groups and never walk the same route twice when coming and going from the nearby venues. The stress-o-meter is well into the red line by now. Walking back to the hotel with some of the delegates the conversation is very somber, tears are streaming from our faces – the war has begun. Pride has taken on a new meaning for all of us. We cannot be complacent, we cannot sit ideal, we must be strong, we must be determined and we must act smart. We are 12 hours away from what will be no doubt a life altering event – we already are feeling the effects.

Yours in Pride,
Dean Nelson – Director, Vancouver Pride; Executive Director Mr. Gay Canada, ED- GayWhistler
Budapest, Hungary
July 4, 2008

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