keep pride as a protest

As London Pride celebrates its 44th birthday in the wake of the Orlando tragedy we look back to the event's origins as a form of protest, and ask whether its associations with military organisations devalues what it originally stood for.

by Tom Rasmussen
23 June 2016, 9:56am

Christopher Street Liberation Day took place on June 28th, 1970, marking the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. By the following year 'Gay Pride' marches had spread to London, Paris, West Berlin, Stockholm, and to most major cities in the U.S.A.

This Saturday marks the forty-fourth LGBTQIA+ Pride in London. Initially started as a way in which to gather far-branched members of the LGBTQIA+ community, to march through city streets in solidarity, with a direct political aim to demand freedom and equality for all LGBTQIA+ peoples, Pride began as a protest. In recent years, however, Pride in London has been heavily criticised, named as an exercise in branding, called out for being non-inclusive to people of colour, trans men and women, or anybody who isn't white, cis-male, and good looking.

While concerns and complaints continue to grow around Pride's increasing corporatisation the marching of the military, BAE Systems and a Red Arrows flyover are coming under particular attack this year. 

There was controversy last year over the allowance of UKIP to march in the parade. Permitting a distinctly homophobic and HIVphobic organisation to walk among the many people who absorb direct oppression from UKIP entirely undermines the spirit of Pride itself. After being chased off the parade, and replaced with a group of activists carrying a coffin atop which sat a flower arrangement which read 'RIP PRIDE', UKIP are not returning to the parade this year.

And while concerns and complaints continue to grow around Pride's increasing corporatisation—the likes of Tesco, Barclays, Visa, Starbucks and Citi Bank are some of the main sponsors of the parade—the marching of the military, BAE Systems and a Red Arrows flyover are coming under particular attack this year. The 'No Pride in War' campaign was set up earlier in 2016 in response to news of the flyover. "I guess it's about saying that we shouldn't be allowing past struggles of LGBT liberation to be co-opted by military and arms companies," Dan Laverick, of No Pride in War, told i-D. "This current position needs to be understood by a long history of increasing commercialisation and corporatisation of Pride. So Pride is becoming increasingly a means of just gathering sponsorship rather than about looking to what the historic meaning of pride was."

The activist group called for the Red Arrows flyover to be stopped, as well as criticising the allowance of BAE Systems to walk within the parade. "So we have a company walking on a London Pride parade that has no qualms with trading arms that are used on civilians in Yemen for example," Dan Laverick continues. "BAE Systems are also a major trading partner with governments who are explicitly opposed to any form of gender and sexual liberation and equality."

The counter arguments for the allowance of these corporations to be included in Pride in London often come back to the positive progresses for LGBTQIA+ people their inclusion represents. Dani Singer of LGBT+ Against Islamophobia told us, "with hindsight, I feel like my reaction to the announcement of BAE Systems, [and the] Fly Over was driven by something outside me - I felt intense anger and a sense of betrayal from those who claimed to be representing me, and my community. In researching the wider community's response to the announcement, I found nothing but celebration and positivity - the support of the Air Force, which for years has ostracised and outlawed gay recruits, meant so much to the wider community, and I was shocked, but not by them; by my reaction, by my own ability to ignore and belittle the sentiments of the community, on whose behalf I briefly believed I was angry."

I can't imagine that I'm the only LGBT person in London with enough experience with violence and armed conflict that seeing the police, and military, doesn't make me feel able to express my sexuality.

When looking at the history of homosexuality, particularly for gay men, it's undeniable that we have come a long way. Pride is indeed a site for solidarity for many, and a place of nourishment and hope which the community is in need of, especially after recent attacks against LGBTQIA+ people in Orlando and Mexico. However one of the main issues is that this hope and nourishment is targeted at a very small set of people who fall under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. The inclusion of major finance companies, of the military, arms companies, and the Red Arrows, demands that attendees of Pride are co-opted into a nationalist, homonormative discourse: get married, have children, get a job at a bank, buy a big house, and support our military. "If you don't comply with all that you're much more likely to be vulnerable, you're much more likely to be exposed to homophobic abuse, you're much more likely to suffer under multiple and overlapping vulnerabilities," Laverick continues.

"It makes me feel profoundly alienated from LGBT people in London, precisely when it comes to the police and military presence at Pride. Basically, having an armed presence around is only reassuring if you're privileged in some way," Bilal Zenab Ahmed, writer and activist told i-D. "During my time in Yemen, I saw bullet holes in car windshields from when military snipers loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh were firing on demonstrators during the Arab Spring. I can't imagine that I'm the only LGBT person in London with enough experience with violence and armed conflict that seeing the police, and military, doesn't make me feel able to express my sexuality. It also doesn't make me feel safe. London Pride is making it worse by facilitating such a blatant presence of the police and armed forces. The flyover by the Red Arrows is especially bad: I've seen numerous videos of BAE Hawk jets sections of Sana'a that I remember quite fondly."

No Pride in War is not a distinct attack against the ethos of Pride itself, in fact it is the very opposite. "The flyover and the allowance of BAE Systems to march is such a flagrant violation of the initial aim of Pride," Dan Glass, co-founder of No Pride in War concludes. "It's the most obvious thing that is not going to help us achieve freedom for all queer people." What the increasing corporatisation, commercialisation and militarisation of Pride in London shows is a continued divergence from the founding principles of LGBTQIA+ Pride: which is to allow platform for the issues and vulnerabilities the wider LGBTQIA+ community face to be brought into public view. Pride should be political, and joyous, an occupation of the streets of London en masse by the people who need to feel solidarity, and find Pride in their usually othered identities. A positive Pride should be by the LGBTQIA+ community, for the LGBTQIA+ community, not an advertising opportunity, not a site for the normalisation of the military and war machines, and not a stroll from A to B.


Text Tom Rasmussen
Photography Ian Robertson

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