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Pride London must remain a community event

Trade union officer and LGBT activist Peter Purton examines how Pride London can prosper while remaining true to its roots
The Gay Star News and Heaven debate about the future of pride in London.

The latest episode in the post-World Pride saga takes place at Congress House in London, the headquarters of the British trade unions, on 5 September.

World Pride 2012 was in London as the UK capital celebrated its Olympic year and its organisers and sponsors meant it to be something to make every LGBT person proud. But there were sudden cutbacks and restrictions of the program introduced in the final week.

The event took place, but in reduced format, on 7 July with hundreds of thousands involved in some way. But the headlines were dominated by rows over who was responsible for the problems, rather than focusing on the intended goal: to highlight the continuing oppression of LGBT people around the world.

Two public meetings were held in the days that followed to review the problems and plan for the future: one organized at (and with the help of) Heaven, the popular gay club in central London, by Gar Star News, and before that, a meeting organized by the TUC (Trades Union Congress) attended by many LGBT community activists. Many people attended both.

The meeting at Congress House reached consensus on some key principles that should shape future Prides: free to all, inclusive of all, with a campaigning edge – and community-led. Some of these have been standard for years, but not always fully achieved in practice (for example, full access for disabled LGBTs). Some of these principles beg other questions. What does ‘community led’ actually mean? We have a very diverse ‘community’ and some groups have long complained about not being heard.

Being free requires big financial backing, and big money has strings attached. We need to ensure that Pride does not become an advertising hoarding, that it remains an assertion of our identity and a reminder of our continuing struggle for equality, and that it does not silence political demands in order to please sponsors or politicians.

The team that runs Pride London 2013 will therefore need a mix of skills; but this is not enough. It will also need the confidence of the many different sections of our communities that it is capable of delivering. This is a big ask. There are certainly plenty of individuals in our community with these skills. The most difficult question is: how will our community keep them accountable for their actions?

It’s been rumored that the trade unions are trying a take-over of pride. Nothing could be further from the truth. LGBT trade unionists are part of the community and expect a say in how pride is run. Far from being a threat, trade unions have contributed hundreds of thousands of pounds of sponsorship over the last 10 years.

Our purpose is to create a pride that reflects the principles already mentioned. We don’t want a pride that you have to pay to get into, because this will exclude people. We don’t want a pride that will pretend that all is well with the world, because that would deny where we have come from and the reality of many LGBT lives. We do believe there is space for all parts of the community to be part of pride, we do want to celebrate our achievements, but not at any cost. We will work for this and support others who believe the same, but we are not interested in trying to run it ourselves.

There is a meeting at Congress House, London WC1B 3LS, at 6.30pm today (5 September) for community representatives to try to reach consensus on a common position to take into the Pride London annual general meeting.

Peter Purton has been a life-long LGBT rights activist and has been the TUC’s LGBT policy officer since 1998.

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