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Your vision for London Pride

Ahead of tomorrow’s public meeting into the future of pride in London, we look at some of the major issues on the agenda
London Pride: It's time to decide the future of the event.
Photo by Scott Nunn.

Pride is quarreled about around the world. But for Londoners this week it is at a turning point.

First, came humiliation. Britain’s capital asked to host World Pride in the same year as it was hosting the Olympics and the Queen’s diamond jubilee and was granted its wish. But despite years to prepare, the event on 7 July almost collapsed. In the end it had to be scaled down with floats taken out of the parade and the street party cancelled.

Tomorrow evening (25 July), Londoners will gather to discuss where we go from here. The event, organized by Gay Star News and G-A-Y is the biggest public meeting to talk about the future. What should the biggest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender event in one of the world’s greatest cities be? And how can London reliably deliver that?

Maybe it’s not our last chance to get it right. But after decades where successes have been heavily mixed with chaos, controversy and allegations of conspiracy, tempers are running short. If LGBT Londoners wish to take ownership of pride and want an event the whole city can be proud of, the moment is now.

Tomorrow the emphasis of the meeting will be on inviting the public to have their say. They are likely to raise key questions – and hopefully provide inspiration – about the state and future of prides. And I reckon that will resonate far more widely than London, which is just one reason I am anxious but excited about chairing it. Here’s what I predict everyone will be talking about:

What went wrong

All around the world, stories circulate of pride events ripping apart the teams that organize them. At least the London organizers can take comfort in the universality of the problem. But it’s clear that London’s event has been rife with reports and rumors of quarrels, backstabbing and oustings for years. Perhaps it didn’t help this year that many of the people who organized for World Pride to come to London had left the board by the time it took place.

The problems tend to stream out from pride to the wider community. While there are plenty of examples of good, positive working relationships, there are also jealousies, rivalries and outright hostilities. In short, pride doesn’t mean unity. Clearly this is something that will have to be worked around – even if it can’t be overcome – if future events are going to be a success.

But even if everyone is in agreement, the hardest thing about putting on pride is paying for it. The blame for this year’s ‘scaling down’ of the event has been placed on an inability to raise money, a problem with debts carried over from last year or a cash crisis where enough money was pledged but not enough was collected in time. Others say that the money itself was not an issue but that plans were not completed in time, assurances not provided to the authorities or licenses not applied for.

Some blame the pride organizers for all this, others say it was partly due to circumstance and the tough economic climate and others point their fingers at the authorities, particularly London Mayor Boris Johnson. Peter Purton of the Trades Union Congress, for example, told me: ‘a public body which genuinely wanted to support World Pride could easily have found a way’.

Gay Star News has repeatedly asked for formal minutes from City Hall of the decision-making meetings where Pride London was forced to scale back its plans in an attempt to unpick the tangle of allegations and counter-claims and find out what really went wrong. So far we have been unable to obtain this information.

Tomorrow’s meeting shouldn’t be focused on the past. But these questions need to be answered if we are to learn the vital lessons of the past and apply them to the future.

What we want

A meeting of LGBT union representatives and some community organizations has already started to unpick this.

Held last week, it concluded London’s pride should remain free to all participants and be ‘fully inclusive of all sections of the LGBT community’. This means it should be ‘led by the LGBT communities’ rather than commercial sponsors or public bodies.

A debate has been raging for years about whether pride should be about partying or politics. The TUC meeting ruled it should be a ‘celebration’ with a ‘political cutting edge’ campaigning for LGBT equality in the UK and around the world.

This won’t be the only opinion. The unions were prepared to tolerate a level of commercial sponsorship to make the event viable. Others feel any corporate involvement somehow sullies the event. And, of course, there are those who believe it needs to be more heavily sponsored and that the involvement of big brands indicates the progress LGBT people have made. Many are insistent pride should remain ‘free’ but others would happily pay for a wristband to enter the party if it was worth the ticket price.

Arguably, both style and substance have their place. But the focus placed on this dichotomy tends to overshadow other issues. For example, how can pride deliver for women as well as men, for black, Asian and ethnic minority participants, for disabled participants and for the elderly – the veterans of the LGBT movement?

Who will pay?

Running London Pride in its current format costs upwards of £250,000. Any future vision for the event will have to be fully budgeted but as it stands the event is heavily dependent on big brand commercial sponsors.

So a key problem is that several of this year’s pride sponsors have indicated to GSN they feel their return on investment has been hassle, bad headlines and broken promises. They may not be swift to return.

Purton is one of the few to have gone on the record with us. The unions gave over £30,000 to this year’s event. He said: ‘The money TUC uses to sponsor pride is mostly raised by our member unions putting money into the kitty. Before I go back to them I would have to be convinced we have a model for 2013 which is viable and an improvement on the existing one.’

City Hall also invested £100,000 – the biggest tranche of public cash. Most expect they will give again, but only if the event seems sustainable.

Effective fundraising activity from the community can raise tens of thousands towards the event but, like anyone, private donors will expect some bang from their buck – nobody wants to feel their hard earned money has delivered a damp squib.

The one opinion that seems dangerously naïve is that raising such large sums of money is simple. Organizations, individuals and companies all need persuasion to open their wallets and it takes a skilled fundraiser to make it happen.

How it’s run

Pride’s interim chair, Tony Hughes, is the first to accept that the event may have suffered from not having the right skills in place in the past.

Over the years, thousands of people have given up their time to volunteer for pride. Many have done an excellent job for little praise. But the event still needs more people who are prepared to donate their energy and expertise. Perhaps the mostly commonly expressed word of optimism about the current situation in London is that it might spur people to step forward and help.

Beyond that, experts and opinion shapers of all kinds have suggested what pride really needs is a professional staff. Some have suggested that City Hall should take on the event wholesale – though it’s far from clear if the mayor wants to do that.

Just as importantly, whatever the structure of the organization or its staff, everyone agrees it should be transparent and accountable. No single model for this has emerged yet and people may well argue that previous efforts at public engagement with pride have tended to run out of steam.

What’s the vision?

And then, finally, you get to the fun part. (Well, it’s fun if you have the money, the team, the community support and authorities backing you and if nothing goes wrong.) What’s the vision for the event?

Should the London Pride march be more like they successful one in Berlin where paying punters drink and dance on the floats? Or should it be more like Sydney Mardi Gras where the emphasis is on amazing costumes and spectacular, educational and inspiring entries? Should it be themed or should people come as they are? Is the march essential at all?

And after that should the party be on the same day or a different day to the parade? Should it be one event or several? Can it be extended to include a funfair and extra stages as a street party? Or should it be moved to a park? Or should we have both? Is the whole thing in the wrong place at the right time or about right where it is?

That’s even before you get to the idea of a pride festival – a week, two weeks or a month long celebration of our diversity with art, comedy, music, literature, parties and fundraisers all thrown in.

There are thousands of good ideas and probably a fair few crazy ones. I’m hoping to hear a good selection of both types tomorrow. Only that way will we encourage the organizers to get creative.

The future starts tomorrow

All the indications we have is that the future of pride in London is wide open. Pride’s bosses have indicated they are prepared for new blood to take over and Johnson’s Greater London Authority is said to be waiting to see the results of tomorrow’s meeting before it makes any decisions.

That makes tomorrow’s public meeting vital. It’s a chance for anyone to come, listen and express their views. I hope you will take part.

The event is being organized by Gay Star News and G-A-Y. It will be at Heaven, Under the Arches, Villiers Street, London, WC2N 6NG on Wednesday (25 July) at 5.30pm. There is a Facebook event page for it here. You can find out more about the details of the panel here. GSN will, of course, be reporting on the event and tweeting live from it. Join us on Twitter here.

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