A friend asked me today whether it was Pride soon. Have you, I replied, been to central London recently? It looks like someone’s threatened to shut down any shop that isn’t covered in rainbows. “Love is love,” a poster for a TV channel told me, on the Tube on the way home.
I disagree. Queer love is different – it’s a radical act. We live in a country where two-thirds of LGBTQ+ people are afraid to hold hands in the street with the person they love because they fear retribution; in a world in which being gay is criminalised in over 70 countries and punishable by death in at least seven. I think we should agree that love is not, in fact, equal. Some kinds of love are more difficult and more dangerous than others.
And that is why Pride is so important. Not for the bandwagon-jumping corporations, not for the money-making influx of rainbows. What we call Pride began as protests against police brutality towards LGBTQ+ people – from rioting transgender women in San Francisco in 1966 to the better-known rebellion following routine police raids at the Stonewall Inn, New York, in 1969 – and became the movement that we see today.
The Pride parade in London might have begun as a protest, but I’m not sure it’s still visible beneath the pinkwashing. Emma Kroeger, marketing and bookings coordinator at iconic east London queer venue Dalston Superstore, tells me: “I think the main Pride event in London is seriously out of touch with the queer community. It has turned into a hyper-capitalist parade of big businesses who have forked out thousands to appear in the parade and appeal to the gay consumer, without having done any work on behalf of the queer community.”
“It’s really quite sad,” she adds. “The fight is nowhere near being won and we still have an incredible amount of work to do. I would like to see more privileged members of the gay community standing up and fighting alongside those who are marginalised.”
The rights we have won are few. Same-sex marriage was a landmark achievement, for those in same-sex relationships who want to get married – but in the UK today, a third of employers wouldn’t hire a trans person. In the last year, hate crimes based on a person’s sexuality rose by 27%, while hate crimes against trans people rose 45% – there were 1,248 hate crimes against trans people in 2016/17. When you also factor in the structural racism, sexism and ableism of our society, it’s easy to see that there are parts of the queer community left behind by mainstream Pride.
“Pride has become synonymous with booze and glitter, rather than the fundamental right to be safe and live your life,” say Dream Nails, a feminist all-female DIY punk band. “Most vitally, we need to see trans inclusion become the norm without question.” At Dream Nails’ gigs, they centre women and non-binary people with their “women to the front” policy, often heckling men who don’t get the memo to create space. This is something that is increasingly common at queer gigs but has yet, in my experience, to spread to bigger LGBTQ+ events.
It is a really emotional experience to stand en masse in the streets with so many queer people and think about the struggle that each person might have gone through just to be there
Pride is seen by many as dominated by white, cisgender, gay men, with racist, sexist and transphobic undertones. This year, Stonewall – Europe’s biggest gay-rights organisation, named after the New York protests that started the modern movement – pulled out of Pride for the first time, citing concerns over ethnic-minority representation that the organising committee had failed to address. Stonewall will be at Black Pride, instead. “This speaks volumes about the failure of Pride in being truly representative,” say Dream Nails.
Last year, a group of queer Arabs marched together for the first time at Pride, marking the beginning of Pride of Arabia, a group of diaspora queers from the MENA region and their friends. “It was one of the most transformative and important days for us as a group and community,” one of the co-founders tells me. “This year, we’ll be joining Black Pride, given our concern over the increasing corporatisation of the main Pride parade and the distraction this creates from LGBTQ+ progress. Branding yourself in the rainbow isn't enough to progress LGBTQ+ rights.”
Black Pride, she says, is “a more consciously inclusive and diverse Pride event that focuses on promoting unity and intersectionality among the queer community, particularly black and other minority groups.
“There have been a lot depressing national LGBTQ+ surveys published this month. Stonewall research published in June stated that more than half of black and ethnic minority people in the LGBTQ+ community have faced discrimination from within the LGBTQ+ community.”
Highlighting racism within the queer community is part of the protest, but it is not served by mainstream Pride. Community-level organising is vital. Dalston Superstore, along with the parties it is known for, holds regular drag brunches and fundraisers to raise funds for local organisations working to support marginalised members of the queer community. Dream Nails set up Queer Prom – a yearly event, the weekend after Pride, where, this year, trans performers will be platformed and the profits will go to Action For Trans Health. Other London queer venues also regularly fundraise and run events supporting the community.
There is a vibrant, politically active queer scene – it’s just not as visible to those outside of it as the rainbow banners on the Tube. Pride is still important and it is a party – but it must be a protest, too.
“It is a really emotional experience to stand en masse in the streets with so many queer people and think about the struggle that each person might have gone through just to be there,” say Dream Nails. “We have earned the right to party our arses off, but let that party be inclusive, be intersectional and ooze politics from every pore.”