Alice Clarke argues that the transformation of Pride into a for-profit, apolitical festival obscures and undermines its political roots.
This year’s Pride will be a long time coming. After a year of limited social contact, lockdowns and darkness, the reality of a visceral, bright Pride seems a world away. In recent years, Pride has moved into the mainstream. Rather than a month or event for those in the margins, its visibility has swelled to the extent that it is an addition to many straight calendars too.
This is a positive change. Looking at recent history and years of homophobic and transphobic oppression, Pride going mainstream should not be overlooked for the seismic cultural shift it has beckoned. However, there needs to be real critical discussion around the extent to which this has happened and ultimately, how far does this celebrate, support and constructively benefit LGBT+ people? That should be the result of the broadening of Pride, yet we have seen it become increasingly commodified for wide appeal at the expense of progress.
From the 27-30th August, Manchester Pride will occupy the city’s Gay Village. Marketed as ‘Manchester Pride Festival 2021’ and sponsored by Virgin, the event is ticketed, and these tickets are tiered. Just to have access to the Gay Village for this weekend, a permanent area of queer nightlife, tickets need to be bought. Access the rest of the year, naturally, is not ticketed. To be part of the main event, one needs to have a ‘rainbow pass’ and if you really want to be treated well, you can splash out on a VIP pass. Though some free events are offered, there are a limited number of tickets to the ‘real’ event, restricting those who can go, decreasing accessibility and increasing exclusivity. Something really does not sit right here. Regardless of how it is executed and the purity of intentions, a capitalist, commercial Pride is something that feels so wrong and removed from the true roots of the movement.
The marketing of Pride as a party, another festival on the summer schedule, obscures and whitewashes the political roots of the event. When Pride is turned into an apolitical party, understanding of LGBT+ issues are sanitised. For the less engaged bystander or participant at Pride, the surface level celebration and festivities suggests discrimination and prejudice have been overcome, liberation is ‘complete’. This is only perpetuated when Pride is framed as a festival, not a protest. But the struggle for LGBT+ rights is far from over.
London Pride has come under increased scrutiny and pressure to reassess their acceptance of MET police presence at the event. While Pride is being turned into a festival for all, many may question the issue with police presence. Pride is a celebration, but it is also a protest. The mere visibility of police uniform does not harbour this sentiment. It is a reminder of police brutality faced by many LGBT+ people, not least a reminder of the Stonewall Riots of 1969 which sparked America’s first Gay Pride a year on. However, it is an even more stark reminder of intersectionality issues that the queer community need to address. Black LGBT+ people should feel fully integrated and comfortable at Pride, but any acceptance of the presence of police regresses moves towards intersectionality. Everyone should feel safe at Pride, but considering levels of police brutality against black people, culminating in years of Black Lives Matter campaigns and protests, accepting police presence makes a mockery of any non-white LGBT+ person’s right to feel comfortable at Pride. This is all a result of the depoliticisation of the event.
At London Pride in 2018, radical feminists disrupted the march, spouting dog-whistle rhetoric about lesbians being erased by the transgender community. This was not merely hostile, but abusive, yet organisers took no action. The idea that Pride no longer needs politicising is nigh on offensive to those who still have to fight for their existence. When this pushback is from within the LGBT+ community itself, it suggests we still have far to go. Pride has to be a space where all LGBT+ members feel they can be visible and push for change.
Pride is still a celebration: for LGBT+ people, it can be affirming, liberating and joyful. However, questions need to be asked of its ownership – who is to say who pride is for? It certainly shouldn’t be non-LGBT+ people. It needs to be recognised that spaces just for queer people are important. The pursuit to make Pride a celebration for all may be positive for some, however caution is needed. At what point will the event become so removed from its origins that it becomes merely another ticketed festival for anyone to attend? The appropriation of Pride – from the very events at its heart, to its rainbow imagery – is a dangerous invasion of queer spaces by those interested in turning it into a money-making machine.. This needs to change. Pride is for celebration, inclusion and hope, not profit.
Artwork by Carmen Brown-Hernandez.