London’s Pride festival is under threat—and it’s the forces of commercialism that are to blame, writes Hannah Dee
The decision to scale down World Pride just days before the event has exposed the dangers of relying on corporate sponsors.
Some had looked to our so-called “friends” in the business community to sponsor our fight for equality and liberation. The fiasco brings into sharp focus the need to put the protest back into Pride.
Over the last few years the sheer size of Pride in London, and the spread of Pride marches across the country, has been one marker of the gains made by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people over the past 40 years.
They have become vital events where people can be out and proud about their sexuality and assert a unity of purpose against discrimination and oppression.
But this progress has been undermined by a tendency for Prides to be run by unelected bodies with no accountability to the wider LGBT community or campaigning organisations.
There has been a dependence on corporate sponsorship that has seen Prides turned into huge marketplaces for businesses. This has led to successful free events, such as Brighton Pride, being turned into events that people are charged for attending.
It has also led to a lack of political focus. This year, for example, the organisers of World Pride claimed that “most of us live in a privileged society where we take for granted the privileges we can enjoy”.
They encouraged us to take advantage of a huge corporate-sponsored marketplace in Soho, where “all things LGBT” can be bought.
Yet it seems that those same corporate sponsors have pulled out and decided to put their money into more profitable ventures, such as the Olympics. This has thrown London’s turn to host World Pride into a financial crisis.
This crisis has been compounded by the decision of London mayor Boris Johnson to partly cut funding to Pride. Johnson once compared gay marriage to a union between “three men and a dog”. It appears the police also put pressure on the organisers to pull the floats to save money on policing costs.
Hate crimes are on the increase and cuts are hitting LGBT people, services and organisations. It is a disgrace that Pride is being undermined in this way.
Pride assembles in Westminster, where hate crimes have increased dramatically in the last year. It ends in Trafalgar Square, where gay pensioner Ian Baynham was kicked to death two years ago.
This is why we must reclaim Pride for its original purpose—a radical protest against oppression and a confident celebration of our sexuality.
The mood for such a change has been visible on Prides in recent years. At last year’s London Pride, trade unionists and students chanted, “We’re here, we’re queer and we’re fighting for our pensions”.
The first Pride of 2012 in Birmingham saw a major anti-cuts contingent heading up the march. It is this kind of unity and struggle that has been central to changing the lives of LGBT people.
The modern gay movement began in the Stonewall riot of 1969 when thousands fought back against police harassment and the raids on gay clubs by cops in New York. The police intended to bully and harass. Instead they were driven from the area.
The fight continued into the 1980s when LGBT activists and trade unionists organised against the Tories’ Section 28—a law banning discussion of lesbian and gay relationships in schools. This struggle began to break the suffocating shame of the being “in the closet” and to transform public opinion.
So attitudes today are very different. Last month a poll showed four out of five people support action against LGB discrimination. Even the Tories now claim they support LGBT people.
But the coalition government is attacking the gains we have made. That is why we must respond to the problems in World Pride by coming out in even greater numbers—bringing with us the spirit of resistance.
We also need to make sure that LGBT people are part of the wider struggles taking place, including the march against austerity that the TUC has called on 20 October. Forging this kind of unity into an assault against austerity and oppression is essential if previous victories are to be maintained.
Through this struggle we can also begin to assert the need for revolutionary struggle against a capitalism. A system that seeks to proscribe, categorise and commodify our sexuality and relationships—and even to corporatise our protest.
The gay liberation movement was strengthened by global revolts against capitalism, war and racism 40 years ago.
We have to seize the time to wrest control of society from the corporations, bankers and the elite. In so doing we can begin lay the foundations of a world where our lives, relationships and sexuality can truly be free.