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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: May 2016

1 - Introduction

Summary

On the gray late spring day of June 19, 2010, Judith Butler, the renowned philosopher and public intellectual, took to the stage at the Brandenburg Gate to address Berlin's Christopher Street Day parade. The annual event celebrates the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) identities, and that year it had again attracted almost a million guests from across the continent. A bird's-eye view of the colorful throng of people on the tree-lined street that connects the Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column – the Prussian military monument that Berlin's gay community symbolically claimed as their own – clearly suggested that the organizers had achieved their goal of generating visibility. While some participants simply came to celebrate (though by making their identities visible, their presence was still political [V. Taylor, Rupp, and Gamson 2004]), others purposefully enhanced the colorful nature of the event by carrying signs and banners that articulated political grievances. Many of these statements championed or targeted the governments of foreign states, reflecting political action that reached far beyond the city and the state. Butler stood before a crowd peppered with diverse national symbols – in recent years they have included a Swedish flag, a banner with the words Solidarność Gejów (“gay solidarity” in Polish), an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin's face painted in drag, and floats foreign embassies and expatriate communities had commissioned.

The scene illustrates the transnational dynamics of a movement that has spilled over the borders of nation states, a dimension of visibility that is central to this book. Visibility for LGBT people often has its roots in transnational sources. Indeed, the Berlin parade's name, Christopher Street Day, refers to the street in New York City where police raided the Stonewall Bar in 1969, subsequently spawning the gay liberation movement that moved LGBT people out of the closet and into the streets. With the parade's audience spread across both halves of a once-divided city where the Berlin Wall stood, the location itself represented both persistence and change in the role transnational movements play in an integrating Europe. Berlin was the avant-garde city that housed the world's first research center on homosexuality in 1897 but then stood aside in fearful silence as the capital of a state that brutally persecuted gay identity during the Third Reich.