Debate continues on how Pride should be funded.
Almost all over the world, Pride has come a long way from its original (grass)roots, and the UK is no exception. Where once we just assembled with homemade cardboard placards and whistles (and perhaps a few cheeky cans), we now enjoy star-studded concert line-ups, cocktail bars, dance tents and celebrity speakers. Participation in many marches is on a limited “wristbands-only” basis, leaving many to watch from the sidelines, and more and more corporate sponsors are jumping on-board every year. So, has Pride lost its soul or is this commercialisation a positive sign, showing that LGBTQ+ people are being more accepted across the board, with big organisations willing to offer money and recognition at Pride events?
Prominent LGBTQ+ campaigner Peter Tatchell, who runs the Peter Tatchell Foundation, is distraught at the way Pride has evolved. “The limit on the size of Pride feels like anti-LGBT+ discrimination,” he says. “There are no similar restrictions placed on the numbers at the Notting Hill Carnival, which is many times larger than Pride… The size and spontaneity of the parade has been strangled by regulations, bureaucracy, red-tape and the unreasonable dictates of the city authorities.” Tatchell appreciates the fact that corporate sponsorship brings in money, but at a very damaging price. “The current parade set up needs commercial sponsorship to pay for it but corporate floats now dominate the event. They’ve got the money, so they have huge extravagant floats that outshine and overwhelm the LGBT+ community groups. The parade looks like an almost endless motorcade of corporate promotion. Many of the companies have degayed their floats. They don’t mention LGBT+, just Pride… [But] if Pride has gone adrift, we are all partly to blame for not being more involved with the organising committee and not standing up to the city authorities.”
Elaine McKenzie, promoter of Glass Bar lesbian, queer and bi women-focused events, agrees. “Corporate sponsorship has increased because it is the most cost-effective way of tapping into a market and appearing to have a robust EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) policy without having to invest large amounts of money in actually being an effective day to day ally to the LGBTQ+ community,” she tells Out News Global. “Pride under the current management has lost its meaning and purpose. It is turning into a money-making venture like Valentines Day. The Pride organisers aren’t doing enough for grass root performers, small charities, and nothing to increase the visibility of Lesbians and the POCs (People of Colour)… This is my life and the Pride celebrations no longer acknowledges that. Pride no longer represents me. It’s about corporates increasing their marketing margins.”
Marcus Morgan is an activist and performer who has attended LGBT Prides all over the UK since 1989. “Evolving takes an event away from the grassroots and some of the breathless angry energy has been lost, but some things are the same – it’s not making anyone rich,” he tells Out News Global. “Yes, commercial concerns are involved but Pride isn’t making a profit to pay off shareholders, all the money it raises is spent on the event. Gone are the days of standing on the base of Nelson’s Column with a megaphone. Now the event needs stages, sound, lighting, insurance, security, policing, toilets, barriers, and all of these need to be paid for. Whenever someone says ‘It’s just for profit now’ I always wonder who they imagine is profiting – London LGBT Pride, for example, is a Community Interest Company, not a private business.” Marcus points out that both donations to Pride (or lack thereof) and its increasing popularity may be contributory factors in this new reliance on corporate funding. “It’s a simple truth: so many people want to be there that it’d be impossible to run a 1980s or 90s style event without corporate money. Prides in the past have tried relying on donations from the attendees to support them and this failed in London. Ask someone who complains how much they donated at the last Pride they went to, and there’s your reason Prides need sponsors.”
Barclays Bank was the main corporate sponsor of this year’s Pride in London and insists the company’s motivations are altruistic rather than financial. “We are incredibly excited to be supporting Pride events across the UK this year for the first time,” says Mark McLane, Barclays’ Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion. “At Barclays, we are passionate about creating diverse and inclusive workplaces, not only in our London HQ but also across our branch network. This extension of sponsorship means that there will be many more opportunities for our regional colleagues and customers to get involved and be part of something special and truly important to us, in the communities that we operate.” McLane is adamant that “extending [Barclays’] support, in partnership with [their] Spectrum LGBT+ colleague community, on a national scale is a further demonstration of [their] ongoing commitment to the LGBT+ community.”
Approached by OutNews Global for comment, fellow prominent corporate Pride sponsor Tesco was keen to emphasise its fundraising work on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community. Money raised from sales of Tesco plastic bags is this year set to be diverted to LGBTQ+ campaign groups, as part of the supermarket chain’s “Bags of Help” scheme. “We are very proud to be supporting a wide range of groups and charities who are doing amazing work to support, empower and celebrate their local LGBT+ communities,” says Alec Brown, Tesco’s Head of Community. “Bags of Help has already reached thousands of community groups and organisations across Britain and shows no sign of slowing as it goes from strength to strength. The wonderful thing about Bags of Help is that groups are voted for by our customers in the communities we serve.”
Accusations that corporates use Pride simply to pay lip service to the LGBTQ+ community don’t look set to die down anytime soon. However, with a host of fringe events to attend at most major Pride celebrations, hanging around the main stage bearing an expensive wrist band and even more expensive pint isn’t mandatory, although many Prides don’t charge at all. Perhaps the best solution for those who object to Pride’s new image is to make sure they support those smaller grassroots groups, offering time and/or donations, as well as speaking with Pride organising committees about our concerns. It’s up to us to help ensure that Pride always remembers its past as well as respecting the demands of its future.