We all know Pride as a party. Glitter, vogueing, and Lady Gaga’s music floods the streets of major cities every year to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. Not many people know, however, that Pride started out as a protest. In 1969, Marsha P. Johnson threw a brick at the Stonewall Inn in NYC, sparking riots across the city. It still stands as the most major demonstration that has made Pride what it is today: a political protest against the mistreatment of the LGBTQ+ community. Before the Stonewall riots, there were many Pride-like events thrown in places like Berlin; in fact, Germany used to be a hub for trans research before the Nazis publicly burned all of that research.
As Pride continues to become a huge public event, more and more people want to get involved. Police officers, banks, brands like Smirnoff, and even UKIP want to share the party. Obviously, it’s a good thing that gay police officers feel welcome at Pride, and nearly every year there’s a Fuzz proposal, and it’s a beautiful celebration of love. However there seems to be a Faustian pact that the LGBTQ+ community is being asked to take part in; you can get married, rise to the top of your chosen career, have a “normal” life, as long as you don’t critique the institutions any further, and you must also silence the louder members of the community.
In recent years, Pride in London has been sponsored by Barclays, the bank that holds a 4.25% share in arms dealer BAE Systems. BAE Systems supply arms to sovereign powers known for committing homophobic and transphobic human rights violations against their own citizens. How LGBTQ+ friendly is that? They’ll support the British LGBTQ+ community, but not the ones overseas?
Whether it’s Barclays sponsoring Pride, buying a limited-edition bottle rainbow shirt from Primark or applying the rainbow banner to your Facebook profile picture, the message seems to be “don’t question it, don’t complain, don’t spoil the fun, don’t protest.”
Many opinions, of course, have changed over the past decade. I’m sure the individuals who are marching at Pride on behalf of Barclays, and the LGBTQ+ police officers do support the LGBTQ+ community, and I’m sure they’re just as horrified by homophobic and transphobic violence as I am. But we must ask, now that it is so “trendy” to go to Pride, whether this conditional equality is actually worth anything. If the LGBTQ+ community suddenly got some really bad press, would Barclays still want to sponsor Pride, or would they scarper? They might as well let us know now that they think the B in LGBTQ stands for ‘buysexual’.
Similarly, there are countless straight people who love going to Pride and co-opting LGBTQ+ culture when it suits them but would be the first to freak out if someone of the same sex tried to flirt with them, or if they saw a trans person in a bathroom. Many people I know within the community don’t want to go to Pride or even nightclubs for fear of seeing the kids who used to bully them for being gay at school dancing on a huge float with a rainbow painted on their cheeks. Pride seems to have lost its potency. Instead of it being a reactionary tool for the LGBTQ+ community to come together with their allies and express solidarity for each other, it’s become a marketing tool for whichever corporation wants a slice of the queer pie. And being an ally isn’t that hard; it mostly just involves listening to what others have to say, making a genuine attempt to take it in, and understanding that you’re a guest in their space.
Furthermore, there’s a price to be paid for being Capitalism’s gay best friend, and it often means that the L, G, and the B are asked to trample all over the T in order to get a tiny bit of conditional equality. At London Pride this year, a group of lesbian activists tried to stop the march to protest the “trans agenda”. This level of transphobia comes at the hand of trans people being relegated towards the bottom in the rank of importance within the community. The trans community, to put it simply, have always been the least police friendly (and rightly so), in a retaliatory sense, since the trans community tend to face more unwarranted stop and searches, brutality and unlawful detainments. All of this is in obvious contrast to the narrative that the LGBTQ+ community is being asked to swallow; “don’t question it, don’t complain, don’t spoil the fun, don’t protest.” Consequently, the trans community faces unspeakable violence in “progressive” countries such as the USA, where the life expectancy of a black trans woman is 35 years old, and nothing is said about it at Pride.
Perhaps we need to reclaim the protest element of Pride and remind people that although heteronormative laws have been expanded to allow room for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, the trans community is still being left out despite Marsha P. Johnson’s best efforts way back when. We also need to remind people that just because gay people can get married, it doesn’t mean that we have full equality. There’s still so far to go, with so much to protest. The old spirit of Pride can still be reclaimed, though. In 1985, the national union of mine workers lead the Pride march down London as a stand of solidarity between working class people and the LGBTQ+ community (a story which has since been immortalised in the 2014 feature film, aptly named Pride), and that still, to me at least, represents what Pride is all about; a coming together from people of different oppressions to uplift and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, and to protest the mistreatment of those within it. Pride can be an inspiring, energising event without selling it off to Barclays. It can be safer for those more oppressed, and it can be a place of empowerment and true solidarity, without corporate sponsorship.
Written by Rochelle Asquith