Earlier, when I was dapping about on social media recently I came across this blog post. It was written over a year ago and innumerates the various negative experiences an LGBT person had at Brighton Pride in 2017, namely with straight people (clearly not ‘allies’) attending pride because it was a great party and being quite homophobic whilst wearing a rainbow garland. The author was addressing the issues around pride no longer being treated as a protest but a festival of fun for all.
The post got me thinking, I attended my first pride parade about 10 years ago and attended it as a protest. A protest for the lack of equality and the abuse many members of the LGBT community were experiencing. We have come some way since I attended my first pride, and we certainly have made positive changes… but LGBT people are not equal. Legally, LGB people are in a much stronger position and have far fewer barriers to face, but the legal struggle is one that is not so strong for transgender people. I am not going to get into it here, but equality? I don’t think so.
The problem is so much more than the legal issues faced by LGBT people. I still make choices (quite subconsciously) about whether to hold my partner’s hand. I still make choices about how to respond when the children I teach ask me if I have a wife. In the not so distant past, I wouldn’t have had a choice, rather I would have been unable to do these things. But now I make choices, choices that I own as a decision I have made, but choices based on fear. Fear of abuse from passersby, fear of the reaction of parents telling me I am indoctrinating their children, or the more mild ‘I don’t think they are old enough to understand, it’s confusing for them’. If I were straight, I wouldn’t think twice about holding the hand of the person I had been with for nearly a decade. I wouldn’t think twice about answering the question ‘Do you have a wife?’
So when the argument is made that we’ve got ‘gay marriage’ (or you know, marriage) now, I can’t help but cringe. Because legal equality is different to being treated equally by society as a whole. There is plenty still to be protested, and plenty that still needs to be discussed, even for the LGB community who have by-on-large achieved legal equality.
I’m rambling a bit, but to the point, the post highlighted many of the issues associated with pride today and the way pride is marketed to society as a whole. We’ve moved from a place of protest to it being viewed as a big party where everyone is welcome. When I first attended, the whole event was free (apart from the groups marching in the parade / protest). My first pride was London, and you could wander in to watch the acts on stage afterwards. It was a community event and it was such a formative experience for me. Now, 10 years later, both Brighton and London pride are ticketed events with (normally straight) celebrities to attract the crowds, significant sponsorship from corporations meaning that you are required to buy their branded products within the space and generally making the day an expensive affair for all. All in all, it’s turned into a corporate, expensive event that bears little resemblance to the pride events I attended in my youth. As such, it doesn’t feel like the community event, the safe place I planned my summer around when I was younger, so I don’t plan my summer around it anymore. It has been some years since I attended and more and more often I have straight cis friends asking me if I’m planning to go because they’ve got tickets and want to meet up. I don’t begrudge these friends going by any means, but I find myself wondering if they’re going because they want to show their support and solidarity or just because they want to go to a great party.
As for the fact it’s turned into a party – I personally believe there’s plenty more to protest, but I also believe there needs to be a space within that for people to celebrate who they are. Pride to me means a day where I can truly be proud of the person I am and reflect on how far I have come, what I have been through to become the person I am today. There was some discussion about whether straight, cis people should go to pride, and I firmly believe that they should… but… and it’s a big but… straight cis people coming to pride need to do so with the understanding that this is not their space. It is ours. For most of us, the journey to being able to walk down the street and be proud of who we are has not been an easy one and the courage it takes to walk in the parade during your first pride is huge. It is a coming-of-age moment for many and it is a moment very few will forget. So, I welcome allies with open arms, but with the understanding that ‘allies’ means a person who has taken the time to educate themselves and understand what Pride is about, why it started, why it still happens and have some insight into the experiences of the people who are marching in front of you.
If you’re someone who is an ally or wants to be one and you’re reading this, wondering what sort of things you should do to educate yourself, then I have some thoughts (these are truly off the top of my head and a quick google so this is not a comprehensive list by any means.)
- Watch the film Pride (2014) – It is a wonderful film based on real events and every time I watch it, I cry.
- Listen to your LGBT friends. Listen to what they are saying, take their lead.
- Have a look at these general bits of advice from Stonewall
- Read Stonewall’s report – ‘LGBT in Britain – Hate Crime (2017)‘
- Read Stonewall’s report – ‘LGBT in Britain – Trans Report (2018)‘
- Have a look at the UK government’s National LGBT Survey Results (the summary report is linked, it’s long, but the key findings are listed at the top.)
Most importantly, just understand that pride is the one place we can claim as ours. It is our pride in who we have become and our fight for the right to be ourselves in our every day. Understand that it is our space and you will be welcomed with open arms to support us.