has commercialisation ruined gay pride?
We make the case for a new, inclusive, DIY vision for gay protest and visibility.
Yesterday, Swansea Bay Pride announced it would not be able to host its events this year and the regretful closure of their charity. Swansea isn't the only place where Pride have been facing difficulties though.
Since 2012 Pride events in London have also had to confront financial difficulties, they announcing they were "cash strapped" - their events in recent years have been remodelled, rebranded, a new board of trustees elected and the events scaled back. Manchester and Brighton Pride have also faced criticism for expensive entry prices and wristband elitism, elitism the organisers say is vital to their survival. A quick search of my local Pride, in Southend-on-Sea, shows its social media channels are collecting dust and no event has been held since 2013 - is this all a shameful signifier that there is no longer a place for Pride in our community?
Pride has unwittingly become the allotted day where white queens with heterosexual hair wear their limited edition AussieBum jockstraps in public. A day where we're all encouraged to cliché the gay away, hosted by someone who came 4th on Britain's Got Talent in 2011. Pride used to be much more than a celebration of mass-produced rainbow flags, it used to be political.
Historically Pride in London was a rally that went past the Houses of Parliament and Downing Street, usually held on the first Saturday of July to co-inside with the anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Its aim was to make our politicians aware of our existence. In recent years the London Pride parade has marched past Selfridges, H&M and Burberry. Pride events across the UK have become opportunities for tax clever multi-nationals to market to the cis pink pound and we've welcomed the investment - last year Starbucks became a gold sponsor of Pride in London. Does the future of Pride lay in the wealthy hands of those eager to exploit our perceived frivolous and fabulous 'lifestyle'?
With LGBTQI* equality seemingly reaching its summit (apparently we're all living in the land of milk and honey, lapping up our equal marriages and dosing ourselves up on PrEP), some might argue that Pride has past its best before - 'what is there left to fight for?' I hear the homonormative cry. This lazy, insular notion that everything is OK now, cause they're not kicking your head in around where you live anymore, and Sam-Smith-won-an-Oscar-for-all-gay-men.
It can be argued that Pride isn't about fighting - pride is about visibility, being seen and heard. But ultimately the reason our Pride events have become commercial, corporate away days is a disengagement with queerness, our political histories and even our political system. This is why we find ourselves sipping free coffee, purchasing wristbands for £20, trying to tell disinterested 30 something's why Alan Turning should be on the next tenner.
With Homophobic hate crime on the rise, transphobia, misogyny and racism still rife in the mainstream and our own communities, we should be doing everything we can to preserve the protest, visibility and solidarity Pride can offer. But if Pride events across the country do anything well its echo the phobia many of our community members face - too often Pride events are produced by and for the benefit of the white, cis, middle class elite.
Perhaps it's the model that is out-dated and not the sentiment. UK Black Pride has gone (and continues) to go from strength to strength, as has Trans Pride Brighton, last year's birth of Queer Picnic is yet another brilliant signifier that there is a need and want for inclusive, political celebration, but most importantly it demonstrates it doesn't need to be sponsored by Starbucks to work.
OK, so the future of Pride, as I paint it, is bleak. And whatever you or I think of your local Pride the real casualties are the kids who are left without an euphoric moment of togetherness, a space of acceptance, a political history, a sense of temporal community spirit. Currently we're offering them a spoonful of cheap party drugs, an 80s throwback they have no affinity and a narrow sense of who belongs there - is it any wonder Pride excludes the many and caters for the few? The loss of Swansea Bay Pride this week is of course sad but unfortunately I fear it won't be the last, having a far greater effect on our communities future than I think Pride skeptics give credit.
Pride should be about remembering what we didn't have until recently, what has yet to be done and how we might support our global family. It can be free, DIY and community led. It can be inclusive, empowering and a force for good. In its current state its nothing but a lazy, theme park re-enactment of something that once was with added exclusivity. Patriarchal parades of slim, able-bodied zombies doing the GHB two-step - it's this that is alienating so many and perhaps the real reason our Prides are fraying - we don't feel like we fit into our own community. We want to belong, we want to feel proud, we want togetherness but the in its current form I'd rather bathe in gay shame.
Photography Sasha Kargaltsev