The Long Read: The Purpose of Pride — Party to Protest

Cait Findlay 7 July 2017
Image Credit: Tony Webster

The first Pride parade ever was held on 28 June 1970 in New York to mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. It didn’t hold the party-like status which many believe it has gained nowadays; it was intended partially as a protest, and partially to commemorate the violence of the riots. While seas of rainbows and smiling, glittery faces showing the joy and celebration of Pride fill our screens and timelines, it’s important to recognise the deeper meaning behind Pride, as well as the context behind the marches. For example, 2017 marks only the fiftieth anniversary since homosexual acts between two men in private were decriminalised, but also thirty years since the infamous ‘Section 28’ was put into motion to ban “promoting homosexuality” (Local Government Act 1988). Pride is a wonderfully invigorating time for the LGBT+ community, and we deserve to have a huge party to celebrate our existence and visibility; still, we shouldn’t lose sight of our past and our future.

Part of Pride’s appeal comes from the unavoidable visibility it promotes in a world where LGBT+ people are underrepresented in the media. Multi-coloured flags and bright costumes on floats are hardly inconspicuous, shouting, “we’re here, we’re queer – what are you going to do about it?” It’s confrontational and conspiratorial, welcoming to everyone who identifies as LGBT+ – or at least claiming to be, but more on inclusivity later – and challenging everyone who doesn’t to reconsider their preconceptions and prejudices. For those LGBT+ people who are still in the closet, Pride is a beacon of hope for a future in which they, too, can be loud, proud, and visible. When I was younger, it was immensely reassuring to see pictures from Pride on social media, and to think that one day I might be marching too with a rainbow flag of my own wrapped around my shoulders, swept along on a wave of solidarity and celebration.

However, Pride seems to have lost its impact as a protest in recent years. Pride campaigns nowadays tend to focus on the message that “Love is Love”, with the current campaign in London running under the slogan “Love Happens Here”. Factually, there is nothing inaccurate about these statements; they may be nauseatingly simplistic, but at least they stress that there is nothing abnormal about queer people and their relationships. These sugar-sweet platitudes, however, hardly live up to the defiance of “we’re here and we’re queer”, which offers no apologies for being queer but recognises our differences without attempting to make them palatable to straight people.

In comparison, “Love is Love” is underwhelmingly meek and excludes hordes of people who fall into the catch-all acronym LGBT+. It doesn’t explicitly consider trans people, since it focuses more on relationships than personal identity, and it ignores the fact that not all LGBT+ people feel romantic attraction in the same way, or even at all. You only have to look at the “Purple-Red Scale” (a more nuanced version of the Kinsey scale) to recognise that. Love is important, and the message which the campaign is trying to promote is equally so; however, I can’t help but feel that it is relatively weak compared to the rhetorical power of previous slogans.

Somewhat cynically, I can’t help but feel that Pride has become a corporate event, at least to an extent. The website for Pride in London lists its sponsors in ranks from bronze to gold, presumably reflecting the amount of money which they donate; this ranking seems unimportant given the fact that Pride shouldn’t be used as an advertising campaign. Companies which sponsor Pride have often been accused of ‘pinkwashing’, which is a tactic whereby a company artificially supports LGBT+ rights to be perceived as progressive, modern, and tolerant. That’s not to say that all companies who sponsor Pride do it for the brownie points in an attempt to hook another demographic; I didn’t have time to investigate every single company, but the ‘headline sponsor’, Barclays, does seem to have a watertight company policy of inclusion which affirms their position as a queer-friendly employer. However, when supporting Pride just seems to be another trendy thing for companies to improve their image, it forces you to question whether Pride has become an advertising campaign, rather than a social justice campaign.

Pride should be one of the most inclusive places for LGBT+ people, and yet it seems as though the events still have a long way to go. For people with disabilities and mental health conditions, Pride throws up a wide range of obstacles from issues with mobility to the potential for panic attacks triggered by the crowds and noise. Obviously, there are limitations to how accessible it can become; it would be difficult to have a march which didn’t include marching, for example.

Pride is also financially inaccessible to many people – while most events are free at the point of access, depending on where you go, there is still the matter of getting there, and, if you’re going for more than one day, staying there. For many, a trip to Pride, whether that may be in London, Manchester, or Brighton, is simply not financially viable. This, too, is another obstacle which cannot be adequately overcome; for practical and logistical reasons, it would be impossible to hold Pride events in every city and town. However, it is worth considering the various ways in which Pride is inaccessible for many LGBT+ people before seeing it as the epitome of inclusivity.

The purpose of Pride nowadays seems to be focused on the visible and vibrant celebration of LGBT+ people in a society which is still not as accepting as it may seem to be; the Independent reported in March that hate crimes against LGBT+ people have increased by 12% in the last year. The emphasis has moved from protest to party, but perhaps such an evolution serves to demonstrate increasing acceptance, particularly in the light of marriage equality which was achieved three years ago. If you’re going to any Pride events, have a wonderful time celebrating; I’ll be there, wearing as much glitter and rainbow paint as one small lesbian possibly can.