Not Just a Parade

On the same day as Finns celebrate mid-summer's eve, the Ljubljana Pride week has its long-waited parade on the streets of the city. Amongst almost 3000 people demonstrating for LGBTIQ+ rights are Finns Julianna Brandt, Dakota Demirbas and Heini Salo. They are here to work as EVS-volunteers for Ljubljana Pride and to march for human rights.

"I love to travel, visit new places and meet new people," says Dakota about why they have chosen to be an EVS volunteer. Julianna (24), Dakota (27) and Heini (24) have been sent as EVS volunteers by Peace Education Institute Finland (RKI). There are altogether 14 Finns volunteering in Ljubljana at the same time. Some of them stay for one year, some for two months like Julianna and Dakota, and some for one month like Heini.

EVS stands for European Voluntary Service. Through EVS, which is part of the Erasmus+ program, young Europeans can travel abroad and work in different projects in areas such as youth work, cultural activities, social care or environmental protection.

“Without us EVS-volunteers Pride week would not be possible”, Dakota says. Dakota’s main job here is to organize and host a study visit week for international guests. Their job includes everything from fund raising, booking hostels, preparing welcome packages for the guests to guiding the guests in Ljubljana. “I’ve been involved in organizing Pride weeks in Finland also. This way I can combine my two callings into one. When I was asked to come here I didn’t have to think twice.”

Heini, on her part, works in Pride’s video team where her main tasks are documenting events by taking videos and putting together video collages. For Heini the most memorable thing as a volunteer has been getting to know all the people working for Ljubljana Pride. “Everybody here is somehow volunteering. Everyone has some contact surface to the Pride movement. It’s important to be willing to help and participate through volunteering, even in smaller roles. Not everyone has to be a coordinator.”

Ljubljana Pride’s theme in 2018 is intersectionality, which is a term used to describe interlocking identities and the ways society’s power structures affect individuals in multiple ways. The theme is very close to heart to all three of the Finnish volunteers. Julianna’s main tasks revolve around intersectionality. During Pride week she takes part in a panel discussion about intersecting identities in the LGBTIQ+ community. Otherwise her work includes producing guidelines of inclusive and intersectional participation for different NGOs and organizations. After the Pride week she will facilitate a support group for LGBTIQ+ people who also belong to other marginalized groups. Julianna thinks that in working as a volunteer it’s important that the working community and environment are safe and equal for all. “As I’ve got cerebral palsy I sometimes notice that non-disabled people decide about disabled people’s matters and act as discussion leaders. Here I can act and talk from my double minority role, as a member of a minority within another minority and be treated as a professional.”

Julianna, Dakota and Heini all think that especially from the point of view of intersectionality Pride movement is important. “Pride is important for all the minority groups inside the LGBTIQ+ community. Even the Pride movement can be too polarized around cis-genders and needs intersectional point of view,” Julianna says. Heini thinks that because it’s so easy for everyone to stay comfortable in their own bubbles and not face big societal issues it’s important that Pride embraces intersectionality. “Pride is the space for making things visible that are not even visible in our community. Pride can make a huge impact.”  

According to Dakota intersecting identities aren’t just about things that make us different but also about all the qualities and identities that make us similar and give us the opportunity to identify with each other. “I am half Turkish so when I meet someone Turkish we can relate, even though that someone doesn’t belong to the LGBTIQ+ community. Then they see that we are similar, we have something in common. All people have something in common.”  

In addition to building inclusion and intersectional practices the three volunteers are building peace in the EU and in individuals’ and communities’ lives. “Just being here as a volunteer is peace work” says Heini. “It’s so easy to think black and white. Through meeting different people and listening to their stories we can build peace.” Also Julianna sees working together for human rights and equality as peace work. “Peace is active doing and working for equal rights and for peaceable life. Raising awareness, for example in social media, can be lonely work but as an EVS I can work with likeminded people for an important cause.”

In Finland Dakota works as a volunteer trainer raising awareness about trans and non-binary identities and rights. “Once in a training for school nurses one participant said to me that there are no people like you in our school. I asked her how she can know that. Through Pride we become visible in the society.” Dakota emphasizes that sharing correct knowledge and awareness amongst people is a big part of peace work. “Organizations like Ljubljana Pride share knowledge and understanding. Hate comes from fear and fear comes from ignorance. The more knowledge we share the more prejudices we can erase. Through this comes peace.”

Julianna would like to see more diverse people working as EVS-volunteer. “It’s a cliché but I would recommend it for everyone! Diversity and being against norms is okay in EVS-volunteering. I also want to encourage people who have never been abroad to come. As an EVS you will grow more than you would at home during the same time.” Heini thinks EVS is for everyone who wants to do something for issues that matter to them. “EVS volunteering is low threshold activity. I think it has an impact.” For Dakota the most memorable and important aspects of volunteering have been concrete actions, such as demonstrating before the Slovenian elections and organising LGBTIQ+ events. “Pride is not just a parade, it’s a protest. I have learned so much about politics and making a change. If all young people in Europe would go for EVS volunteering they would get inspired and change the world. This isn’t just a two-month volunteering in Ljubljana. This is everything!”