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Whether Partying Or Protesting, It’s Pride Season. Let’s Be Proud!

Jan 8, 2017
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Written by Steve Taylor for HuffPost.

It’s June.

Not a reason to celebrate summer, half-way-to-Christmas, or holidays, no. It’s time to celebrate Pride season which, after a barnstorming last weekend in Birmingham, Bradford, and Durham, and the very first Flintshire Pride, is well underway.

That’s right: ‘tis the season to be glittery, to get those sequins out, and to celebrate all things out and proud. To celebrate the fact that we have equality in so many areas of our lives, and that being LGBT+ in Britain is about as good as it gets. ILGA-Europe recently rated the UK one of the top European countries for LGBT+ equality, and that’s undoubtedly a good thing.

Sadly Pride season brings with it some detractors. I don’t mean the bore-offs who endlessly ask “when’s Straight Pride?” (answer: every other day), and I don’t mean the Christian and other religious fundamentalists who say that despite LGBT+ people being god’s creation, she somehow got it wrong and we’re all doomed.

No, I mean actual LGBT+ people who say that Pride is a bad thing. Or, at least, they say that the Prides we have today are a bad thing.

They say that modern day Prides have ‘forgotten’ that ‘Pride is a protest’, a rage against the machine, against the heteronormative society that held us back for so many decades.

That Pride today is a ‘sell out to big corporates’, forgetting our roots so closely linked to the US civil rights movement of the 1960s and the Stonewall riots of 1969 New York City.

And that Pride is nowadays ‘just a party’ without any room for protest or political campaigns.

In short, they tell those of us that run Prides that we’re bad people, consorting with the devil, and doing a disservice to the thousands of dedicated LGBT+ activists who went before us. That we’re denigrating the Pride and human rights movements. That we’re just chasing the dollar.

The truth is that these people - in my experience often keyboard warriors whose only activism is on Twitter - are indulging in fake news that would astonish even Trump. Not only are they ignoring facts and evidence, but they’re attempting to rewrite history and undo the good work of thousands of volunteers.

Let’s take first the charge that Pride is now just a party and no longer a protest.

In the summer of 1970, barely three years after sex between two men had been partially legalised in England and Wales, a few hundred people gathered on Highbury Fields for what has become regarded as the UK’s first ‘Pride’ event. It wasn’t a march, nor a demonstration; it was a picnic. Lots of people turned up and picnicked. The police - doubtlessly under instructions to quash the event - stood by with suspicious side glances. The local menfolk weren’t corrupted and the event went off relatively peacefully.

The first Pride march, as we’d know it today, took place two years later in 1972. It was a protest march through central London, smaller in number but otherwise not dissimilar to that of 1985 depicted in the Pride movie a couple of years ago. They shouted and chanted, and called for changes to the law. They were heckled and abused from the sidelines. A protest it certainly was. But afterwards, many of the participants - some involved in the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and the Gay Liberation Front - went and had a party.

My first Pride event, in London in 1997, was hugely political. Tony Blair had just been elected on a manifesto and verbal overtures that were hugely promising for LGBT+ people. As we passed Downing Street - as in those days the march did - there were rapturous cheers and applause, hopeful for what was to come. We had fun, we shouted, we chanted, and when we all got to Clapham Common to listen to the Pet Shop Boys and a very young Graham Norton, we got pissed.

Pride today is no different. Last year, sexual health charities joined forces in the Parade to embolden their campaign for PrEP, a new drug which has helped to reduce new HIV diagnoses amongst men who have sex with men by up to 40% in the last year. The US Ambassador to Britain walked in the Parade alongside Mayor Sadiq Khan in memoriam for those lost at Orlando a couple of weeks earlier. The year before, the Parade was led by a hugely diverse group of flagbearers, carrying the flag of every country in the world, to show LGBT+ people in more hostile countries that, whilst we celebrate, we stand with them.

Pride in London’s award winning campaigns - #NoFilter in 2016, #PrideHeroes in 2015, #FreedomTo in 2014 - have all been about celebrating activism and campaigning within our community. This year’s campaign, #LoveHappensHere, rightly promotes London as the global, diverse, multifaceted and multicultural city where all are welcome and safe.

But, yes, some say activism is lost from Pride. They say that the current organisers of Pride in London - incidentally, the only organisation in recent history to have run London’s Pride events on a sound financial footing - have ‘sold out’ to corporate sponsors who ‘are always at the front of the Parade’.

A small proportion of Pride’s funding comes from the Mayor’s office, but the remainder of the budget, which this year is approaching a million pounds, has to be raised by the organisers. The community, through events and fundraising, contributes a few tens of thousands. The majority - several hundred thousand pounds - comes from sponsors including Barclays, Tesco, pwc, Citi and NBC Universal.

That’s no bad thing. All those companies employ lots of LGBT+ people who are proud to march with their company on the day. All have millions of LGBT+ customers. And some, such as Barclays, can use their support for LGBT+ causes in the UK to leverage progress with governments in countries where being LGBT+ can be a risk to life and limb.

And no sponsor has ever been at the front of the Parade. The four Pride in London Parades that have taken place since the current organisers took over have always been led either by individuals, or by flagbearers with a human rights message. Sponsors have always been distributed throughout the Parade, in amongst the majority - three quarters or so - who are charities or other voluntary organisations.

Like all Prides, Pride in London is still a protest. This year, you’ll see protests about the lack of equal marriage in Northern Ireland. The spousal veto for trans people. The fact that men who have sex with men still face hurdles that prevent them giving blood. About PrEP, Chechnya, LGBT+ refugees and lots of other issues. You’ll see thousands of people using Pride as a platform on which to mount their campaigns on the issues that matter to them.

We should stand up to those who say that Pride is a sell out, or just a party, or that it has lost its purpose, because none of those accusations are true. Those who criticise Pride organisers should be encouraged to engage with the Prides of which they are so critical, and understand that whilst Pride might have changed, its purpose has never been more relevant. Aside from a few ‘alternative’ Pride events that crop up from time to time and then inevitably disappear, Prides are successful and enduring precisely because they speak to the whole community.

And that’s why Pride remains relevant. Things aren’t sorted for LGBT+ people here or abroad, and we need action from governments everywhere. And it will be a protest, but also a party; that one weekend of the year when the city’s LGBT+ community feels that it’s in charge. That it can live as it chooses, celebrating its #PrideHeroes with #NoFilter, to show that #LoveHappensHere.

Rianna Fernandez
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