Photos: Buenos Aires police show up in force to 'protect' the city's Cathedral on gay pride day. According to news reports, this year's 14th annual gay pride march drew over 10,000 marchers. Police threw tear-gas and made some arrests after a confrontation between a small fundamentalist religious group clashed with left-wing protesters not associated with the march (photos taken by Nicolas Parodi courtesy of Indymedia, additional photos here)
By all accounts, this weekend's gay pride march was a resounding success, drawing more than 10,000 marchers and filling the streets of Buenos Aires with rainbow flags and confetti, despite the light rain that fell on a warm afternoon. March organizers selected "We Want the Same Rights" as this year's theme and demanded the passage of a national civil union bill which would expand the landmark 2002 Buenos Aires same-sex civil union law to cover same-sex couples around Argentina (to date, according to Corrientes Noticias, 400 Buenos Aires couples have sought civil union protections). In addition, organizers also said that they were demanding the right to adopt and the right to one's body.
Not everything ran peacefully, as a few members of a fundamentalist religious organization called "Bringers of the Faith" gathered outside the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral to 'defend' the Church from gatherers at the Plaza de Mayo - which marks the starting place for the march - and about 100 individuals associated with socialist, anarchist and queer groups stood in front of them and began to shout them down.
The confrontation has a history: In 2003, a group of mostly left-wing queer organizations and activists organized a 'counter-march' to denounce the assimilationist and non-revolutionary nature of the gay pride march. At the start of the march, they decended upon the Cathedral and spray-painted its outside walls with anti-Catholic slurs drawing strong rebukes from Argentine society, the government and, of course, the Catholic Church. The action also exposed a split in LGBT organizing in Buenos Aires between those who seek gains through governmental lobbying and legislative pressure and activists who see this as sleeping with the enemy and want to take more aggressive measures (Similar fissures exist the United States LGBT rights movement). So it should not have been a surprise that the Buenos Aires police was out in full force at the beginning of this past Saturday's march. But the mix of right-wing religious zealots, left-wing organizers, anarchists and police proved to be a powder keg with a fuse that was lit - according to Cadena 3 - when one of the Church defenders reached out and grabbed a transgender woman who was shouting at him.
As the confrontation began to spill out of order, the police threw tear gas supposedly to protect the religious folk who were smaller in number than their opponents. This was met by a hail of rocks and bottles thrown by demonstrator at the police as the protesters retreated into the wider crowd of march participants. The police followed a few of them into the crowd and arrested six people. A video of the police dragging a young pregnant woman off to jail was shown on Argentine television and on this weekends edition of Univision's Primer Impacto (the anchorwoman, inexplicably, ended her comments by asking "I sincerely do not know what a pregnant woman was doing at such a march" - then again, their report was insubstantial and alleged that the clash represented a bunch of angry gays attacking the police). A policeman was taken to a hospital where he was treated for injuries to an eye.
After the arrests, the clashes died down and the marchers were able to make their way from the Plaza de Mayo to the National Congress Building.
The repercussions are still rippling through the Argentine LGBT movement as some march organizers have alleged that some of the mostly non-gay anarchist protesters actually shouted anti-gay slurs at them as they were also clashing with the police and the church folks. At the very least, I hope that it leads to concrete steps on how the more politicaly savvy (some may say entrenched) organizations such as the CHA and the more progressive elements of the LGBT movement in Argentina can mend fences and work together.
Otherwise, expect to see a repeat of these clashes at next year's march.