Give gay pride back to the people, was the message shouted loud and clear at a debate on how to save the future of London’s troubled LGBT festival.
Around 200 people packed into Heaven nightclub in the UK capital’s center tonight (25 July) to take part in a discussion on this year’s event, which was heavily scaled back at the last minute.
Passions were high as a panel of experts who have been involved in London pride faced questions from the public over why the parade on 7 July was reduced to a walking march with no floats and a Soho street party cancelled.
Gay Star News editor Tris Reid-Smith chaired the debate with Pride London interim chair Tony Hughes, Andy Woodfield, lead partner for LGBT issues at PricewaterhouseCoopers or PwC and Debbie Gold; chief executive of Galop, London’s LGBT hate crime charity, joining him on the panel.
Anton Johnson, LGBT officer of the Greater London Association of Trades Union Councils, Kerry Chapman, vice chair of the Westminster Gay Business Forum, which represents the ‘scene’ businesses of Soho, and Conservative Greater London Assembly member Andrew Boff completed the team.
Members of the audience called almost unanimously for the event to return to its roots, with a more inclusive parade with all members of the community represented and for the party aspect of the event not to overshadow gay rights activism.
‘We have to develop a strategy around consulting the community,’ said transgender woman Diana Taylor.
‘Pride should be all about delivering the vision of the community.’
Panellist Gold shared this vision of pride’s future.
‘Pride has felt increasingly distant and disengaged from the community with little transparency or accountability. The organization has felt almost secretive,’ she said.
‘There’s no way of feeding into decision making and incomplete information for community groups and unions has often made us feel we’re very low priority.’
She added that many groups feel excluded from the parade, including the disabled, people with young children and transgender people.
The Galop chief executive said: ‘In the past, pride has said the right things about inclusivity but failed to deliver.
‘Sometimes the emphasis on the party part leads to the march being a poor relation and felt more like a procession – something to watch rather than participate in.’
While she emphasized the need for corporate sponsors, she added that she would like to see a ‘back to basics’ pride, with people allowed to join the parade for free.
‘If we have a party at the end, there’s no need for expensive performers. We can have just a giant picnic. If we give over space to the voluntary sector and unions, I know that we can pull off an amazing community space on a shoestring.’
The debate also heard repeated calls for more transparency on the funding of the event to avoid a repeat of this year’s cash crisis, with demands that an audit of Pride London’s finances be undertaken and for the current board to resign.
Pride London’s Hughes said an audit was a possibility and added that none of the current Pride London trustees would return to their posts when it holds its annual AGM meeting in September.
However, the issue of how best to fund pride in future divided both the panel and audience members.
While some suggested raising the money through charitable donations, others maintained the importance of corporate funding.
‘I’ve been a little bit disappointed by people who are debating about whether pride is being too commercial or too political,’ said activist Daniel, who marched with the Labour Party in this year’s event.
‘It’s about representing the gay community and that’s political, social and cultural. The corporate sponsorship is a way, along with public and charitable funding, of financing and facilitating all of those things. And in a world city like London, it’s essential that we allow corporate sponsors in a professional way.’
He suggests that the way to bring about change is to attend Pride London’s annual meeting and have a debate then about what sort of representatives people want on the board.
He said: ‘Once we have a representative board, then you can put in all those structures that you need to execute the plan.’
The public meeting was organized by Gay Star News and club and bar brand G-A-Y with the help of London gay scene magazines Boyz and QX.