The Great Big Pride Debate

Amrou Al-Kadhi
‘Pride in London’ has become somewhat of a joke among many members of the LGBTQIA+ community in recent years. There was the UKIP fiasco of two years ago, the Red Arrows flypast last year and the absurd, illogical, infuriating, invalidating advertising that prioritised straight people this year. It is as though the organising committee gets together to think of the most inclusive potential option for this yearly parade and then does the exact opposite.
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As a fat, gender queer, femme, working-class person (yassss labels), Pride – in the corporate sense of the word – is unquestionably not designed for me, or for anyone who falls outside of straight people and their hot, white, straight-acting gay male mates box.
And still, year on year, the date rolls around and I find myself in a tangle of confusion re attending ‘White Muscle Fest in London’. "It’s good to be visible," I think; "it’s important for brilliant charities who make most of their money from fundraising at Pride," I wax; "it’s so important for young people to see a huge body of people celebrating their community," I wane. And yes, these things are all true, and so yes, I am attending.
But in attending for myself, and so many, the day of Pride in London is not one of safety, or where we reclaim the streets. It’s actually one which feels silencing, whitewashing and totally generalising. “Stop fucking moaning” I hear you cry. But the reason this is such an emotional topic for so many – and the thing people fail to understand – is that Pride itself was born from need, from protest, from anger and rebellion. The entire institution of Pride was built to create space for those so incredibly marginalised it pushed them to protest. The problem with Pride now is that it couldn’t be further from that: it’s a money-making opportunity for brands like Wagamama, Barclays and BAE Systems to co-opt and milk for cash at the expense of those in our community who continue to be marginalised, and who need some sort of Pride so desperately in order to survive, but are denied it by the louder, assimilationist voices in the community and brands who see financial potential.
But instead of writing yet another long, complaint-filled op-ed about ‘Why Pride is o-v-e-r, gurl’ I wanted to ask a range of differing voices about what Pride makes them feel, and why they are or are not attending.
Amrou Al-Kadhi
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I am going to Pride this year. I have a lot of political issues with Pride, and there's a lot that makes me feel resistant from going. However, it's been a catastrophic couple of years politically, and I just want to mute the critical voice in my head, even for a few hours, and be around queer people for an entire day and have a good time. I'm so angry all the time – and I have reason to be – but I just want to be happy for a day. Does that sound lazy? Also, one of my biggest issues with Pride is how white and commodified it has become. As a gay gender queer Iraqi, I feel that if I am not there, and if I am not visible, I will be facilitating my own exclusion. So I do think there's something very important about staying visible, regardless of all the commodification, and showing the increasingly white masc LGBTQIA+ landscape that I am here, and not going anywhere.
Amrou Al-Kadhi
To be honest, I practise Pride every day. Every second. I feel it's my duty as a gender queer gay Iraqi to constantly take up space, to challenge heteronormativity, and to assert my identity wherever I go. Society always wants to make me invisible, and it is my duty to challenge this. So the Pride parade isn't something that will feel that novel to me, especially when I'm in drag doing shows multiple times a week. It does sadden me to see how white gay men dominate LGBTQIA+ spaces – more and more I feel excluded by gay men on account of increasing Islamophobia and hate towards femme people on the scene – UKIP and Tory floats at the Parade certainly don't help here.
Pride is a very complicated word for me. As someone who grew up in a conservative Muslim household, I was taught on a daily basis that my sexuality would land me straight in hell. And the internalised shame that has come with this has dominated my life, and I suffer recurring nightmares, and am on medication to cope with some paralysing anxieties. So while I'm proud to be queer, and practise Pride daily, what we collectively need to start talking about in society is how to reduce and manage the shame that comes from growing up queer in a world so hostile to us.
Torraine Futurum
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I did go to the main pride parade in NY, but only because a friend and I passed by it on the way to dinner. It wasn’t super-intentional. I honestly don't feel a great connection to most things related to Pride with a capital 'P' I guess. Everyone under the LGBTQ acronym gets swallowed up into the monolithic image of the cisgender white gay male. And despite how inclusive people like to assert that that acronym is, I don't often feel a part of it.
Torraine Futurum
I feel seen and welcomed in more specified spaces like the trans march that happens every year. Or when I'm in spaces for queer women/femmes of colour. I am both a queer woman and also a trans woman and I don't think being trans automatically makes you queer. But so often when I'm in LGBTQ spaces with broad stroke groupings like this, I feel like my identities get muddied or ignored. I hate being in spaces where I feel misunderstood. I'm not queer because I'm trans, I'm queer because I'm attracted to women and non-binary people. But also, with that being said, LGBQ people need to do a better job at representing the T people. I know it's easy to enact erasure because T is the only letter that doesn't represent a sexual orientation, but... try harder. It's important to include trans people without making them think you see them as extremely 'gay' versions of the gender they were assigned at birth.
Literally just try to include more intersectional voices. Think outside of your myopic viewpoint about what you're celebrating. At the very least, stop saying 'gay pride'. There are a lot of heterosexual trans people who have just as much right to celebrate Pride and a phrase like that is so frustrating and invalidating.
Emily Carlton
I’m going to Pride, for the first time in years. I’m generally put off by the big corporate ‘Pride Org’ in this country, that seems to relentlessly commercialise and whitewash being gay. But no matter how much I disagree with how it’s packaged, at the end of the day it’s a really important thing globally. I guess being able to be critical of London Pride is a luxury in itself, and I think it’s important to powerfully demonstrate your freedoms for people who don’t have them around the world. Thanks to social media, they still see it and feel it.
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Emily Carlton
As a bisexual woman who has dated a lot of men, I’m used to my identity shifting depending on where I am. At its worst, Pride feels like it’s an event for gym-ripped shirtless gay men, but even at its best there’s not a huge amount of space for bisexual people there. Ironically, I rarely feel more ‘straight’ than I do at Pride. I get dubbed a fag hag and end up adopting the role of straight ally. That’s not who I am, and when I was younger it really upset me, but it doesn’t bother me so much anymore. Now I’m comfortable enough in my sexual identity to get involved with Pride in whatever capacity. I guess I feel like a quiet bisexual ally at gay Pride, rather than at an event that’s really for me.
Temi Wilkey
No, I’m not going to Pride this year. I'm performing at a festival with my Drag King company. I'd definitely be going to London Pride if I wasn't. We're performing at Brighton Pride, so I'll at least get to go to that! I think Pride is important. It may not be a protest, like it used to be, but I think it can be a really joyful celebration of being able to be 'out', a privilege that people in lots of countries are not easily afforded.
Temi Wilkey
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As a woman of colour I don’t think Pride caters to me. I think the marketing for London Pride this year was inexcusable. Pride can often feel as though it's mainly for gay white men, but they took it a step further and geared it towards straight white men.
I'd be keen to go to Black Pride if I was in London this weekend and I know there are great events, like Femmes of Colour happening, which I'm sad to be missing. I think people of colour, especially queer people of colour, are amazing at creating our own spaces when we don't feel included in mainstream scenes – and these spaces can be so special, so empowering and so much more fun than the spaces we weren't originally included in.
But I think, if Pride wanted to improve, it could seek out these spaces and centre them in Pride. I think that that's the key to being inclusive rather than tokenistic. It's easy to book one performer of colour, but creating a space or several spaces that centre queer people of colour is truly inclusive.
Jake Woodhead
It was Lancaster’s first Pride this year and it was undoubtedly small, but important. The day went really well (despite the rain) and spirits were high. Lancaster is not known for its diversity so when I heard that somebody had organised a Pride here I was really glad, because I feel it’s important for people to see us and hear our message. I feel like straight people from big cities where huge Pride events have been going for years are a lot more accepting to people from the LGBTQ+ community since it has become the norm for these events to take place. In a small town like Lancaster, most people have never even been in a gay bar let alone a Pride event! A few did stay clear of town that day and took the 'Warning: gays in town this Saturday' signs seriously, but generally people came to see what was going on out of curiosity and people were supportive. I hope it’s the start of bigger things to come.
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Everybody knows London is a melting pot of all cultures and backgrounds so it’s expected there. While it’s still important for London to have a huge Pride to set an example, it’s even more meaningful for regional prides to take place since Queers aren’t just from the capital! No matter what town we live in we should feel like we fit in, not just within the comfort of Soho. In fact, London and Bristol Pride are both on at the same time this weekend and I’m actually going to Bristol for the first time, and I can’t wait.
Jeremy Goldstein
I’m undecided as to whether I’ll attend Pride this year, although I’m unlikely to go to the Parade. If I do anything at all, I’ll be at the Duckie DeCrim with my tribe.
The last time I went to Pride was in 2012. I marched the entire length of the Parade route carrying a banner celebrating art, freedom and sex, which Ed Hall made for Penny Arcade’s Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!. Penny was there with her dancers and after the Parade we arranged for them to dance in the windows on Old Compton Street. We turned it into a scene from Amsterdam's red light district and the crowds went wild. It was great fun.
There are various reasons I haven’t been since but it’s largely to do with the fact that I struggle to find truth in such a large and generic catch-all event. Now Pride makes me feel more nostalgic than anything else. I grew up in Sydney so my Pride was Mardi Gras in the 1980s when things were a lot more political and there was much more of a feeling of defiance in the air, as we were in the midst of dealing with the HIV and AIDS epidemic. It was a formative and important time for those that lived through it so the meaning of Pride to someone of my generation is, I imagine, much different to a younger person coming out and experiencing their Pride for the first time.
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My favourite memory of London Pride was when I volunteered backstage in Victoria Park in the 1990s. It was the year Chaka Khan graced us with her presence and I remember dancing on stage as she belted out "Ain’t Nobody". The roar of the crowd was unlike anything I had ever heard. Believe you me when I say I felt the Pride!!
Olivia Smith
Yes. I am going to Pride. I've been going to Pride every year for the past 6 or 7 years – I go mainly because it's an activity that my friends all enjoy and rally around, so it's a chance to see people I like and be extra-visible as members of the LGBT+ community.
Olivia Smith
Pride is the one time where that enormity of the LGBT+ community is present and loud and tangible and there's a safety in that – there's no other time or place where you can find that many people being open about their sexuality and unafraid. For me personally, I can walk down the street with smudged rainbows on my face and covered in stickers about how unashamedly queer I am and it's the safest I'll ever feel doing that, and that feeling means so much because it doesn't come round a lot.
The most important thing about Pride for me is feeling both visible and invisible – visible as a very proud, queer, big, masculine woman, and yet not feeling singled out for that fact. A lot of my interactions with the 'gay scene' happen in spaces which are either heavily male-dominated, or more diverse but still feel excluding of people like me – with Pride, I feel like I get less of a second glance than I would in some queer spaces.
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Max Hurd
Hella yeah I’m going to Pride! I go every year with my friends and family, and we always have an amazing time! I come away every time with a huge amount of love for the community that I am so proud to be a part of. I grew up in a very heterosexual environment, especially living in Brazil as a child. The closest I got to gay culture was Posh Spice! I then went to two very strict boarding schools here in the UK, where being gay simply wasn't an option. I didn't have any gay friends 'til I was 19, and would have been terrified of going to Pride by myself, even though I was dying to go. When I came out, and first went to Pride, surrounded not only by my sisters but also my gay friends, I felt like I was finally able to enjoy the gay community that I had wanted to be a part of for so long! I know Pride has a reputation for being a bit naff now, or worse, exclusive of certain tribes, or minorities, but for me it's a chance to share the pride I now feel in my sexuality with not only my gay friends, but also my family and straight friends, who want to come and support me. Something that I never dreamed would happen as a child. At its core, Pride is a celebration of us. And for that, I love it.
Sadhbh O’Sullivan
Sadhbh O’Sullivan
I'm not going to Pride, no. There's a huge part that wants to go – I want it to be this incredible, inclusive, celebratory riot of joy and colour and queerness, but the run-up makes me feel really uncomfortable. All these brands slapping rainbows on their logos as though that changes the lives of LGBTQ people – it's a pat on the back for basic humanity (not hating people for who they love) that serves straight people more than it does us. What does this do for the 'less palatable' LGBT people? Provisions for and violence against trans people is a horrific reality; LGBT migrants are being deported back to countries that will condemn them. The representation that comes from this branding and from Pride is only the first step. It should not be the be-all and end-all. As a space it should be for all of us and not just a party. It is, and should always be, a political fight. When fucking UKIP gets a float and the banks get pride of place, it's not anything.
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