Shopping for Pride. Or which vodka will make me gay? By Craig Hanlon-Smith @craigscontinuum
“Isn’t it great that Pride feels like a national celebration now?”, my husband exclaims as we wander around London for some last minute holiday shopping. And as I look around at every other shop, wall, skyward banner and lamppost, adorned with some manifestation of the rainbow, I cannot help but agree. In the 22 years that I’ve been attending Pride events, the integration of these into our national psyche is nothing short of terrific and the importance of this not to be underestimated. The first Pride marches I attended in London during the mid-late 1990s, although massive, were routed away from the main shopping areas and with the park/party/rally events in the green open spaces of Finsbury, Brockwell and Victoria Parks, not to forget Clapham Common, visitors to London could happily wander around the city’s main tourist centres and not experience so much of a hint of it. Pride happened, but around the edges.
Not so now. The London march and parade closes both Oxford and Regent Street to traffic, the ‘party’ element has now been a mainstay of Trafalgar Square for several years, and Pride in London adorns the shops, buses, underground stations and even high-street fashion choices. Our own event in Brighton is a massive boost for the annual local economy with guest houses booked out months in advance, and with the parade marching through the centre of town and street party closing a significant part of the seafront for two days, you cannot visit and miss it.
But all is not well in Pride land. Peter Tatchell writing in The Guardian this week, pulled no punches in highlighting what he described as draconian rules and regulations which in effect inhibit London’s Pride celebrations at the behest of commercial profit. Pride in London has to limit the number of participants in the parade at the behest of the mayor’s office, and whilst there is a smattering of human rights groups marching, the parade is overrun with representatives ranging from supermarket chains to international airlines. The Royal Parks will not permit Pride celebrations on their land, and there is a tight limit on the numbers allowed in the Trafalgar Square event. Tatchell directly challenges the mayor’s claims of over a million attendees and puts the figure at a more conservative 250k. When these figures are compared with those in Madrid and Sao Paolo to name but two, it would appear that Pride in London is less party and more poop. There are now similar limits on those attending Brighton Pride, and for both London and Brighton, applications months in advance and fees payable for a spot in the parade.
Peter Tatchell speaks highly of the Pride organisations themselves describing their positions as almost being held to ransom by city councils. But Pride groups have also this year come under some scrutiny. Pride in London had to withdraw a seemingly expensive poster marketing campaign following accusations of straight bias and the marginalisation of the very community it was trying to support. Pride in London apologised unreservedly and issued a statement confirming the campaign to have been a misjudgement.
I am less than over the moon with the current Pride-friendly Hate Sucks campaign. Sucks being a derivative of c**k-sucker seen most notably in the late 1970s Disco Sucks campaign, when there were mass burnings of disco records at football stadiums across America with homophobic overtones. When raising this online, I’ve been accused of oversensitivity, political correctness and ‘attacking Pride’. To be straight with you (rolls eyes), I’m not angry or offended by these campaigns, but I do think they have not been adequately researched or thought through. And it’s the lack of thought that I find a little disappointing.
It’s important to remember that the original Pride marches were demonstrations, an emerging fight for equality and a direct reaction to police brutality against the LGBT community in the late 1960s and beyond. I would welcome a historical reflection to this essential aspect of our past in our Pride parades, but Pride is also now much bigger than that. Pride in both London and Brighton now host a range of events in the two weeks up to the weekend festivals referred to as ‘Pride’. How many weekend revellers were aware that the Royal National Theatre were hosting a range of seminal play readings in the first week of July, including Martin Sherman’s Bent, which examines the treatment of gay men in Nazi concentration camps? The thinking man’s Pride is out there if you can be bothered to look for it.
There is also, I believe, much to celebrate in the commercialisation of Pride. If international businesses or high street stores want to sponsor LGBT Pride events, of course it’s for commercial gain, but is that not progressive? I’m only 45 and I remember all too well when gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender branding was considered toxic, and no commercial organisation with any business sense would come anywhere near us. I love to hear stories of people refusing to buy rainbow covered vodka bottles or McDonald’s fries served in a Pride carton, those organisations are saying to those individuals it is you who needs to change your mind. Supermarkets marching through Pride are promoting themselves of course, but they’re also showing off and celebrating their LGBT staff networks and encouraging members of our community to consider working for an organisation that allows us to be ourselves.
Pride is not what it was, and I am in many ways pleased it doesn’t need to be. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good march and can often be heard ranting political manifestos in my sleep, but I cannot to any reasonable extent put into words the Pride I feel when every day I can hold my husband’s hand and kiss in the street, hug my friends tightly and possibly for slightly longer than is comfortable for some, in public, be visibly homosexual across a range of online platforms, and stand on an escalator which will take me to one of the busiest commercial centres in the world and see that it is in every direction adorned with rainbows that celebrate me.
Every petition, every demonstration, every step towards acceptance over the past 50 years has brought us here. It is now our duty to make sure that we don’t f**k it up.