Saturday, 14 May 2016

The Moment I Lost My Pride...

Pride in London 2015 ™ is the last pride event in London that I shall ever attend. 
With Blanche Dubois by Sam Dore.

I have fond memories of the first time I protested as a young teenager back in the late 80’s. I had enthusiastically strutted out in support of gay rights when suddenly I got booed and spat upon by a group of pissed-up, city boys. So it’s funny that while protesting for gay rights in 2015, I was booed and spat upon by a group of pissed-up gay boys. Now that’s what I call progress, volume 42.
For various reasons, like many queer people, I have distanced myself from recent pride events in London. I’m not sure why, maybe I just got old? Anyway, we parted amicably back in the 90’s, I can’t remember exactly when, it was a spectacularly boozy decade. I happily relegated Pride to a cherished cubicle in my heart along with the rave scene, Glastonbury and Radio One.

Needless to say, I have been continuing to live a happy gay life in spite of this estrangement, although the specter of Pride has always lingered. From what I can gather, it has now come to resemble a bizarre marketing experiment. I feel it’s run by people who frequently overuse the phrase ‘thinking outside the box’ without any irony. I can envisage a meeting in Soho where an excitable young intern suggests, “blanketing consumers with a cascade of branded signifiers,” just before he demonstrates where on the douche the Thomson Reuters logo should go.

I understand that when you organize an event of this magnitude you are inevitably going to upset someone, but In what universe does anyone need to mince through central London to promote Barclays bank?
But this is London. The city is tyrannized by a corrupt financial service industry that has already priced many queer spaces out of the city. So, any ‘event’ is going to reflect this ethos. In fact, it would probably have been hypocritical of the parade not to have become a brand wagon. Pride in London™ is what it is, an international corporate marketing event that is happy to rainbow-wash such legendary luminaries of social advocacy as ‘ASDA’ in exchange for cash. So much for the old Pride chant, “We’re here, we’re queer and we’re not going shopping!”

Personally I can’t wait for my local Tesco to open a walk-in clinic by the bakery. Hopefully they will offer free sexual health screenings with every Seeded Batch.
It wasn’t until Head out of Space asked me if I would blog about a grassroots movement headed by award winning activist Dan Glass, that I had even considered going. Then I looked at the main sponsors. The only thing that could have made these links any more tenuous would be if a member of the house of Saud had contributed, maybe not. It also says here that Barclays bank are running a “freedom to make a Statement campaign.” Cool, but the cost of participating in the parade is definitely not - er, free.

In reaction to this, a group of local queers from all shades of the political spectrum set about bringing a visible grassroots aspect to the day. We wanted to pay our respects to the many ordinary Londoners who have marched for our freedoms in the past and are now forced to trail behind Starbucks. It was vital that our protest expressed a clear message that we hoped would resonate with many gay people living across the UK. It was essential that we incorporated a DIY aesthetic, something that anyone with the right motivation could achieve. The policies of austerity have successfully priced most people out of the democratic process, so with minimal cost we needed to reframe and reclaim the debate.

Dan Laverick, together with Dan Glass, had decided to hold a funeral, “to grieve over the soulless corporate character of Pride in London ™.”

Over the course of a week numerous people dedicated what little free time they had to build a coffin, make flags and floral tributes. This has been a truly authentic team effort fueled by giggles and cups of tea. The plan was to break through the barriers and lead the corporate ‘parade’ in a sombre funeral march.

This was achieved with minimal resistance. Dada Schling a mourner at ‘RIP Pride’ states, “we broke through at a crossing point by Oxford Circus and were immediately met with some resistance from the stewards and private security. With some of the crowd shouting support for our right to peacefully protest for free, we broke through and set off with the drums playing...”
As we made our way along the route there were a myriad of reactions from the crowd. Many people were confused. A lot of people were supportive of what we had to say, so much so that we ended up distributing all of the leaflets we had produced which featured a eulogy to the memory of our beloved Pride. Some people were visibly angered by our protest – like the posh boys who booed and spat their Prosecco at me – though they were definitely the minority. I had to laugh. How quickly people forget. I and many others like me have faced much worse than that in order to build a city in which people are free to express themselves in public with their loved ones, and we have achieved that without the help of Barclays Bank, Baker and McKenzie or CMS.

It was a privilege to mourn alongside the members of RIP Pride. I have no intention of returning to Pride in London™, I’m sure it will get along just fine without me, but it’s really not for me. At least I made my protest and my peace with Pride on my own terms. I am very proud to report that on 27th June 2015, a small group of us did not allow our sexualities to be co-opted into the spectacle of a shameless marketing campaign.

1 comment:

  1. Yes indeed, or as I put it...