Barranquilla Carnival, Gay Parade Steps Out Of Shadows

Barranquilla's gay events at carnival time have shed social shaming and police harassment to become part of the intangible patrimony of this historic Caribbean city.

At the Barranquilla carnival 2018
At the Barranquilla carnival 2018
Pilar Cuartas Rodríguez

BARRANQUILLAIn this carnival city on the Carribbean coast, police are clearing the way for Diana Ardila Kopp, a tattooed, 34-year-old transgender woman, and this year's Gay Carnival Queen. On February 3, she led the Guacherna gay (gay parade), one of events preceding Barranquilla's world-renowned carnival.

Gay festivities used to be secret here. Police officers would chase dolled up "artists' down the street for offending public morals, but now they were busy assuring their safety. The queen kicks off the parade in the district of Curramba, dancing in 10-centimeter heels to the rhythm of drums, followed by a train of festive characters like the micos (with monkey masks), the "Venetians," harlequin-like monocucos or negritas puloy (Afro-Caribbean dolls).

A co-founder of the Gay Carnival, Jairo Polo Altamar, recalls that in 1984 when the first edition took place, someone set off a blackout to intimidate them. After "so many years, the people of Barranquilla understood we are equal to them, and what we do is artistic," says Polo, father of three, grandfather of two and husband of Fabián Gómez.

The first challenge for the group of friends that built the Gay Carnival was to convince members of the LGBT community to find the courage to come onto the streets and show themselves as they are. Previously the festival had been held discreetly in one of Barranquilla's nightclubs. Initially just 20 heeded the call, facing down ridicule and harassment from police who told them, with the departmental booklet on public conduct in hand, that their provocative behavior threatened security. It is another story today, with some 2,000 parading and the law on their side.

I am happily improper.

On November 29, the city council declared the Guacherna gay parade and six other activities of the Gay Carnival, part of the city's Cultural Heritage. Caribe Afirmativo, a cultural and gay rights association, said the designation was an explicit defense of LGBT rights.

For Carnival Queen Diana Ardila, the parade lets many, especially transsexuals: "take to the streets trying to shout at society that they existed and were not moving."

Ardila has tattoos, plays professional basketball, believes in Cuban Santería and speaks in explicit political terms. She is far from the clichés of a beauty queen. "I accepted this regal position because I want to promote the rights of the LGBT population," she says. "My life doesn't focus on making others happy or reproducing patriarchal conducts. No. I am happily improper because I am looking for my own happiness."

Initially she wanted to study psychology and became a hairdresser to pay for it, then a civil servant at the Bogotá municipal planning office under the socialist mayor Gustavo Petro. That was the most positive and useful of her work experiences and she spent time working with different sectors of the city's population. It took her colleagues six months to understand they had equal rights, that she was there because of personal competence not quotas, that they could acknowledge her when sharing the elevator — and that she was free to use the ladies' room.

She is sorry discrimination has obstructed transgender women's access to education. "Many of us have to become sex workers," says Ardila. "It is a way of speeding up the transition process and paying the surgeries. We cannot demonize this because each person is free to choose how he or she earns money, but they cannot restrict us. We want opportunities, to train academically and improve our quality of life, and the government must provide us with the means as it would to any Colombian."

One of the parade troupes is the Caimanas, who decided to celebrate a transgender reading of the traditional Ciénaga caiman (said to have swallowed a local girl). In their version, the little girl Tomasita dances with a transsexual caiman dressed in a skirt. Their rhythmic progression continued for a full hour toward Siete Bocas, a city square. It was there that Diana Ardila was crowned queen, and vowed to keep bringing politics to the party.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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