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Let’s start from scratch with London’s gay pride

London needs an LGBT pride that's accountable, transparent and meaningful to get over the World Pride shambles of this year, says Stewart Who
A previous London Pride.
Photo by Scott Nunn.

Accountability. Transparency. Public duty. Law abiding. Financially secure. Nobody would ever use those words to describe any aspect of my life. In that respect, I have much in common with the recent history of gay pride events in London. Fortunately, my chaos living, criminal tendencies and stupidity doesn’t affect thousands of people. Nor is the whole world watching when my life implodes due to unpaid bills and broken dreams.

For 20 years, I’ve watched London Pride lurch from enjoyable shambles to infuriating tragedy. Fiscal fiddling, misfortune, incompetence and sporadic arrogance have eroded any faith in the possibility that this city can deliver a pride event that’s envied the world over.

It’s true that London is cursed with mercurial weather, unsupportive authorities and an infrastructure that appears to defy large scale events. When these issues are coupled with poor management from a succession of pride organisations and a gay community that’s lost its unity, the eyes swell with rainbow coloured tears.

Of course, pride hasn’t always been a circus of thieves, fools and freeloaders. Far from it. One must salute the army of honest volunteers, enthusiastic activists, unlikely supporters and generous donors.

It’s easy to forget the sincere backbone of gay pride, rocking up come rain or shine. The angry, idealistic and selfless, these are the people who deserve an event that matches their commitment. Awkward teenagers, semi-nude pensioners, suburban queens, provincial lesbians and the overwhelmingly plain - pride belongs to them. The shiny, sexy, airbrushed bullshit that sells us a ‘lifestyle’ isn’t what we marched for at Stonewall. The corporate visions of idealised beauty and acceptance through consumption were not responsible for repealing Section 28. It’s not what we ordered while fighting for an equal age of consent and while the taming of gay culture is progressive and often entertaining, it’s confused our notion of pride.

The gay press, which I’ve been embroiled with for years, has on the whole, turned a blind eye to decades of ineptitude from a chorus line of pride committees. We watch the Leveson enquiry and reel in horror at the close relationship between the press and British government, but few have ever questioned the parasitic relationship between London’s gay pride events and most of the LGBT media.

Despite decades of rotten behaviour from committee members, ranging from sheer robbery to gilded conceit, the press have mostly looked the other way. One can’t blame them, sometimes selective blindness is necessary for survival, but complicity breeds corruption. Such larks are endemic in the world of finance and big business, but from a charity? Fighting for equality? That’s nothing to be proud of.

Advertising has played a large part in an editorial silence from the media. Nobody wants to bite the hand that feeds. We were all in it together; club promoters, licensees, journalists, publishers, fundraisers, corporate sponsors and to a certain extent the wider community. We’ve all neglected to ask the right questions, until now.

We’ve colluded in a mirage of pride that’s misled the wider public for years. The need to present a grinning mask of competence is understandable. Why would anybody back a lame donkey? For pride to function, it needs support from the Metropolitan Police, cooperation with Westminster City Council and a hefty injection of cash from sponsors. Oh, and a community that’s keen to spend unwisely and attend in great numbers. It’s surprising that we’ve kept it up this long. This year, decades of smoke and mirrors collapsed. Unsurprisingly, nobody dashed to pull us from the flaming ruins. Essentially, in the end, we got the Pride we deserved.

The howl of protest from the community came too late and largely from a demographic with rosy memories of the 80s and 90s. Do the kids of today want a gay party in the park? Probably not. Why would they? They’ve got Lovebox, Glastonbury, Latitude and the like. At these well-organised events they can enjoy a varied bill of quality acts and find that the gay corner, probably hosted by Horse Meat Disco is rammed with slumming queers and wide-eyed straights, desperate for a slice of the bendy action.

Regional pride events serve a purpose that was once the duty of London Pride, creating community, visibility and grass roots action. It takes guts to swish and whistle through Birmingham, Cardiff or Reading. All you need is energy, patience and cash for a pride weekend in London.

Pride had to wilt on the world stage, at the very last moment for us to really look in the mirror. Embarrassing though it is, I’m kinda glad the gun is at our head. We have an opportunity to start from scratch, grow up and face the music. London is a wild, cultured, sensational metropolis… and that’s part of the problem. It’s gay pride every weekend in London. We have a rich queer culture that’s the envy of the world. Hardcore sex parties, chemically fuelled nightclubs and cross-dressing discos juggle with performance art dives, literary salons and political happenings.

Londoners are spoilt for choice, divided by taste and less tolerant of each other than they used to be. That’s not to say that there isn’t a need for a march, that homophobia is dead and we have nothing left to fight for. As if. There’s plenty of cities which deserve our attention and support, where appearing gay is potentially lethal. Bored with pride in London? Go to Moscow, Riga or nearer to home, Belfast - that will deliver perspective.

The biggest battle for Londoners is with our own apathy and the fact that community has been replaced with narcissism. Some might say that’s progress, a symptom of the modern age, but it’s nothing to be proud of. We’ve had our wake up call, let’s get to work.

Gay Star News is chairing a public meeting about the future of London Pride at Heaven, Under the Arches, Villiers Street, London, WC2N 6NG on Wednesday 25 July at 5.30pm. Everyone is welcome to attend and no invitation is needed. The event is being hosted by G-A-Y and is also supported by Boyz and QX. The venue is disabled accessible. More information and a map are on the Facebook event page here.

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