Pride in London, which is celebrating 50 years since the first Gay Liberation March in 1972, has released a video to accompany this year’s #AllOurPride theme.
The capital’s Pride has had a tough time over recent years. Aside from cancellations because of the Covid-19 pandemic – which was nobody’s fault – accusations of lesbophobia and racism resulted in mass resignations from the board and organisations such as DIVA magazine, which had previously sponsored the women’s stage in Leicester Square for several years, distancing themselves from the event.
Many of these issues have been addressed; a new board is in place and lessons appear to have been learned. Nonetheless, accusations that Pride in London has become an opportunity for large public bodies and companies, whose fees to take part in the parade and sponsorship money help keep the event free, to “rainbow-wash” their image at the expense of ordinary LGBTQ+ people persist. For sure, it is galling to see a parade that is dominated by banks, international corporations and police forces while LGBTQ+ revellers stand on the sidelines behind barriers, watching companies awash with dosh waving their branded rainbow flags to demonstrate how much they love the gays.
Talking of the police, I would rather that they had expended more energy in tracking down serial killer and mass rapist Stephen Port…than witness them marching along The Haymarket.
Pride in London’s short video zips through the last 50 years at a gallop, before calling for an end to conversion therapy, an understanding of “all our genders” and various other noble aspirations with which it is hard to disagree. The video ends with an exhortation to march and “raise out fists and shout till we’re hoarse”: again, a noble sentiment but, let’s be clear, Pride in London has not been a “march” for decades. Rather, it is a carnival parade dominated by big business and, from time to time, the military, the police and even the secret service. Yes there are some charities and community groups, but the look and feel of the parade remains overwhelmingly corporate.
Talking of the police, I would rather that they had expended more energy in tracking down serial killer and mass rapist Stephen Port who was racking up his gay male victims while the cops were overseeing what can only be described as a homophobia-tinged, bungled investigation, than witness them marching along The Haymarket for one day a year at the expense of actual LGBTQ+ people who are forced to stand on the sidelines.
Pride in London is reported to cost £1.7 million, and – if it is to remain as it is and free to attend – then that money has to come from somewhere. The organisation, therefore, has no choice other than to sell parade spots and seek sponsorship from big business who, this year, include BT, Coca-Cola, United Airlines and Playstation. There is no suggestion that these and Pride’s other sponsors are actually cynically setting out to rainbow-wash their image, and without their assistance the event quite simply could not go ahead.
And herein lies the problem, and none of it is the direct fault of the dedicated Pride in London volunteers who work tirelessly to put on the very best event that they can, even if they are seemingly unable to attract the kind of talent that its Brighton sibling manages to do: Britney pre-pandemic, and this year both Christina Aguilera and Paloma Faith are due to headline down in East Sussex. The problem is that, if Pride in London is to remain a New York style parade, there is no alternative to turning to big business for funding.
Of course, big business could do the decent thing and donate their parade spots to ordinary LGBTQ+ people while still paying for them, which would allow more ordinary punters to attend while the event receives the cash it needs, but then they would miss out on those lovely photo opportunities which make the diversity and inclusion pages of their websites so right-on.
So it’s time for a total rethink. We are consistently being reminded that Pride is a protest but, much as we may want it to be, it really isn’t. But it can be. Let’s take it off the streets of London (which, to be honest, can be cramped and hot with nowhere to sit and an almighty crush to get home on public transport when they’re not on strike) and move it to an actual place. I’d like to see a return to Finsbury Park but – full disclosure – that’s because I live a ten-minute Tube ride away and it would suit me down to the ground, but London has several suitable open spaces. Brighton has just one within a reasonable distance from the city centre – Preston Park – and they manage to make it work.
By all means get some sponsorship money in but don’t let corporations dominate and overshadow what should be a community event. Charge a fee, perhaps on a sliding scale, to those who can afford it with a generous system of concessions. Perhaps a sponsor or two could divert their sponsorship moolah to community groups so they can attend for free.
The point here is that Pride in London doesn’t have to be the corporate jamboree that it’s become, and again I must emphasise none of this is the fault of the organisation’s hard-working and committed volunteers. We can, if the will is there, return to the days of dance tents, music stages, bars, grass to lounge around on, community-group stalls and, if it’s your bag, even a bit of poetry and politics.
So, while there is nothing wrong with producing a slick video commemorating 50 years of Pride, surely the best way to honour those who came before us and lived through years of police brutality, being sacked for your sexuality, ostracisation, public ridicule, tabloid intrusion, AIDS, Section 28 and more, is to create a Pride for the people rather than for business.