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Pride in London is in crisis. Allegations of racism at the top level have resulted in the resignation of the organisation’s entire communications team, including Head of Communications Rhammel Afflick, precipitating not just the resignations of co-chairs Michael Salter-Church and Alison Camps, but also a stampede of big LGBTQ+ names falling over themselves to distance themselves from the event. These include trans kids’ charity Mermaids, Bi Pride UK and DIVA, who have sponsored the Women’s Stage in Leicester Square for the past four years and who led the parade in 2019. 

If Pride is to mean anything at all it has to represent everyone in our beautiful rainbow community without exception, and Pride in London’s failure to listen to and engage with black communities is a scandalous dereliction of duty.

Pink News has reported that 80s pop icon Sinitta was shocked at some of the derogatory comments she heard in a meeting with Pride in London; the So Macho singer went on to say that “the following year, I was excluded from the main stage because it was felt that people didn’t want to see my people, my Black lesbians, my transgender teenagers and hear my messages.

“I was really, really hurt but again [I] just kind of sucked it up.”

Much has been written about the outgoing administration’s failure to engage with minorities within the LGBTQ+ community, and reading Rhammel Afflick’s account of a “hostile environment” was chilling. If Pride is to mean anything at all it has to represent everyone in our beautiful rainbow community without exception, and Pride in London’s failure to listen to and engage with black communities is a scandalous dereliction of duty. The interim administration needs to steady the ship and re-engage with those who feel so excluded for the 2021 event but, going forward, there needs to be a total rethink for 2022 and beyond.

Pride in London costs a lot of money and to keep it free of charge, the organisers have done an amazing job in securing sponsorship from major British and multinational corporations. This has led to smaller, community organisations wanting to take part in the parade being squeezed out by banks, insurance companies, airlines and media giants with colossal, diesel-spewing trucks draped in corporate livery which, frankly, are as much about advertising and promotion as they are about showing solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.

This is virtue signalling in extremis, pinkwashing par excellence; the original premise of Pride – a defiant protest against discrimination and inequality – is lost in a sea of corporate logos where faceless institutions jostle with each other to prove how totally in love they are with gay people. Come to think of it, if they loved us so much they might want to think about supporting LGBTQ+ media, but that’s a gripe for another day.

You couldn’t get more corporate than Microsoft if you tried.

It can be argued that with equal marriage and equality before the law, there is nothing left to protest about. It’s a tempting argument, but there are tens of thousands of LGBTQ+ people who are at best apprehensive and at worst afraid to be out at work – and let’s be clear, these could be the very same workplaces whose corporate flags fly so high at Pride. It is still almost impossible to walk down the street in many parts of the country, including London, showing affection for a same-sex partner, while trans people who do not “pass” (an expression I personally hate) are subjected to constant harassment and violence. Lesbians remain fetishised by the straight male gaze, and bisexuals like me are still instructed to make up their minds. So please, PLEASE do not tell me there are no more battles to fight.

So while Pride in the 70s, 80s and 90s was about fighting for equality, with governments and official bodies like the police the target of demonstrators’ ire, now the battles are a little more subtle: representation in the media, unconscious bias in the workplace, recognition of LGBTQ+ history and, of course, the hearts, minds and attitudes of the general population. Yes, we’re going in the right direction but there remains so much more to be done, and the view that Pride can only play its part in fighting these battles if it goes some way to distance itself from the corporate shilling is a compelling one.

What Pride used to look like.

We cannot ignore the international status of London. New Yorkers may disagree, but London really is the cultural capital of the world and with territories throughout Africa, Asia and the Caribbean still refusing to decriminalise homosexuality and some maintaining the death penalty for “homosexual acts”, Pride in London is in a unique position to leverage its status to highlight these atrocities. Some of these territories – including, shamefully, British Overseas Territories – may no longer criminalise homosexuality but many retain legislation which enshrines inequality – gay people in the military, equal marriage, same-sex adoption and so on. 

Repositioning Pride away from a corporate jamboree and returning to the old values of protest and solidarity may mean a smaller event. A new administration may even consider moving out of Westminster and returning to an open space like Brockwell Park in the south or Finsbury Park in the north. Either way, the current fiasco presents a unique opportunity to take a step back and to do what we in the LGBTQ+ community do best: to be proud of who we are, to show solidarity with each other and with our siblings around the world and, lest we forget, to throw a bloody good party.

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Rob Harkavy

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