Friday, 13 July 2012

London Pride 2012

Posted by Cleopatra

So I went to World Pride in London on Saturday. Pride, to my mind, is one of those things that come round once a year, like your birthday or Christmas. You wander into Soho, you watch the parade, you go check out the rally and booths in Trafalgar Square, meet as many of your queer friends as you have the energy to find in all the crowds. (Then depending on said energy levels, stay out and drink for a bit or go home.) I’ve gone every year I’ve been in London since I started identifying as queer.

I want to be pretty clear I’ve never been much for the street party in Soho aspect so I definitely won’t be touching on that much.

Additionally, I started reading around on the subject more after I started writing this and while it hasn’t changed my opinions, I do want to be pretty clear that this is very much how I myself feel about London Pride. I feel like I’ve come into a conversation halfway and not taken the time to hear all the arguments before forming my own opinion.

That said, Pride is something I look forward to every year. It’s fun to get a group of my friends together, dress as colourfully as possible (not that I need an excuse for this) and go make a lot of noise in Soho.
I was pretty shocked and surprised when news of the cuts to funding, the time change and the lack of road closure started floating around my twitter feed. (Here are the main links I followed at the time. The first two are So So Gay articles outlining the cuts made, namely that there would be no street closures, no drinking outside pubs in Soho as per previous years and that the parade this year would be dramatically scaled down, with no floats or vehicles. The third is a Huffington Post article by Peter Tatchell, placing part of the blame for the situation on the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.)

My friends and I felt pretty uncertain about the whole day as we headed into town on Saturday morning. The combination of scaling it down, making it earlier and the announcement about not being able to drink outside made us feel like the day and by extension we weren’t welcome. Like whoever was behind said cuts wanted the whole thing out of the way and over with as quickly as possible. Considering that before I’d even got to my local tube station I was practically wading through a small river and my bright green shoes and purple tights were soaked, it’s safe to say my enthusiasm for the day was somewhat dampened. (See what I did there? ;)) Several of my friends backed out, having decided they’d already been rained on too much, and part of me (the rather soggy part) couldn’t really blame them. We wondered if the whole thing wouldn’t get called off because of the bad weather.

The Parade was actually awesome this year. I was especially thrilled to see Queer Resistance, and an asexual section, and several trans parts to the parade. Every time I saw a banner that read some variant of LGBTQ or LGBTQI or LGBTI or LGBT or LGBT* I cheered a bit louder. The London Roller Girls are always a highlight. I love the reminder that there are members of a wide range of religions that are supportive of queer rights. My best friend is Jewish so we look out for their banner every year. I love the enormous variety of people you can spot at the rally, including crowds of bemused tourists who don't know what's going on but are pretty supportive once they've found out. I love spotting people who have brought their kids and pets. I don’t know whether it’s a sign that I’m looking more or whether there actually were more this year but I saw several wheelchair users in the parade. (Worth noting at this stage that while Pride London did have arrangements in place for wheelchair users and their friends to be at the front of the parade, they came under criticism for only providing the relevant information two weeks before hand. More on this here).

And let's be fair, I do think from an organisational point of view, Pride was pretty shambolic this year. We turned up and picked a spot on Regent Street at about 10.50, and unlike previous years, there were no barriers up and the road was still open. We were actually really worried the parade had been cancelled, and had to go check with a couple of stewards. Normally the barriers would be up and people would be lined up all along them. This year we had to pick out small clumps of likely fellow queers. We watched the police rather ineptly try to close the road, and the stewards coming over to check on their progress. We were following the march on twitter (of course) and kept being told it was right round the corner while we watched cars keep driving down Regent Street. But it did get going in the end, and was a wonderful sight to behold once it did. A really lovely thing about the lack of barriers was watching on-lookers dart in to say hello to their friends. I spotted two friends of mine at different points in the parade and it was awfully fun dashing in to say hello and then dashing back out again. Both the groups they were marching with instantly offered to let me stay and march with them if I wanted.

I actually love how many big corporations you spot in the Parade. Within my lifetime, the idea of queers as a group to be pandered to would have been pretty unthinkable and I think it’s great that we’re viewed this way now. The fact that our public-life culture has got to a point where large corporations have to at least seem inclusive is worth highlighting and being pleased about. I’m not saying it’s perfect, I’m not saying we should rest on our laurels and just gratefully accept whatever is offered, but occasionally taking a moment to stop and think about how far we’ve come can be pretty cool too. (This New Statesman article talks in more detail about how far Pride has come from its original roots as a protest, but they're less convinced this has some merit than I am.) I think the fact we (or let’s be fair, some of us) are taken seriously as a box to be ticked by big corporations is a step in the right direction. 

I’m not saying I want the debate to end here, that we’ve reached the end of the road and we have equality now. But I think we’ve come a long way. Corporations are treating queers as a group worth pandering to? Hurrah. Look at those JC Penney ads. (This was their Mother's Day ad, and this was Father's Day.) I think things like those ads are a great step towards making us more visible and normalising us, which in turn helps with acceptance. Granted, if you go by those ads acceptance comes to those of us who are young and good-looking, but I'd say that is a whole other issue and one I'd rather we tackle on an equal footing.

This doesn’t mean I endorse JC Penney and everything they stand for, and the same goes for Google or Tesco, to name but two of the corporations that come instantly to mind. (Google and Tesco come to mind for having some of my favourite banners, incidentally. I loved how creative the lack of funds made people generally this year. Google had made up the letters of their logo in coloured balloons, and Tesco have the world’s largest Pride flag. (Well. The largest I'VE ever seen, which is obviously the same thing.))

As London was hosting World Pride this year, there were more sections of the parade from other countries than there usually are, lots of them with banners about how differently they experience queerness there. I think this is the thing that makes going to Pride if I can most important to me. I don’t ever want to take it for granted. I think the fact that I can go to Pride and dress up and have fun with my friends and expect to see children and dogs in the Parade and people obviously from all walks of life wandering around at the rally is a massive privilege. There were people protesting with homophobic Bible quoting signage and they had police all around them. They were in the minority. I want so much more than a day ultimately but the day we do have is worth celebrating and turning up for. As I was reminded on Saturday by people’s banners over and over, I am lucky to live in a country where we’ve got to a point where Pride is so established we’re all debating whether it’s still about gay rights or partying. There were people in the parade on Saturday from countries where it’s still illegal to be all sorts of different shades of queer. (Trigger warning for queer bashing and queer death mentions in the following article, which talks about a man attending the march whose boyfriend was murdered in what's been dubbed Turkey's first honour killing.)

So saying, while I’ve always found it to be a very welcoming and lovely atmosphere, I know that isn’t the case for everyone. Two trans people of my acquaintance got beaten up last year, and that shit’s just not on. It makes me incredibly sad and angry that an event and a day that’s supposed to be about both celebrating how far we’ve come and making some noise about how much we still want in terms of social justice highlights the problems within the movement. There are some things I think we've come pretty far on, but this is definitely one on area in which we've still got a long way to go.

I think that even if you think it was a fiasco and the cuts were not cool and there is no political element to pride anymore and we got messed around, boycotting wasn’t the answer this time. I think that with Pride specifically, it’s important to show up anyway and do your best to make it the day you want it to be. (So shockingly I agree more with Peter Tatchell than Julie Bindel in this conversation.)

I think that, to me, what made Pride special this year was the atmosphere and people's attitude: that they had been let down by the organisers but would show up and make it a great day anyway. This piece in So So Gay goes into this more, I couldn't agree more with what it has to say about the sense of community and inclusion in the parade this year. 

I’m definitely glad that there are discussions happening on what to do differently next year and that we ARE debating the event itself. More constructive conversation is basically always good. As are photos.

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