When did Pride become a parade and not a protest?
Last weekend, thousands of people descended onto the streets of London to celebrate diversity at the annual Pride in London event. The parade, which consisted of a range of LGBT+ rights advocacy groups, political parties, LGBT+ social groups and of course many multinational corporations.
This was my first Pride event and I was deeply humbled to be given the chance by LGBTIQA+ Greens to join them in the parade alongside Jonathan Bartley, Amelia Womack and Aimee Challenor. But in the days leading up to Pride, I noticed something which had never really caught my attention before.
A significant number of my LGBTIQA+ friends across social media were openly criticising Pride for what it has become whilst some were even going so far as to declare their desire for the whole “ordeal” to be over as soon as possible. What consistently came up was the controversial issue of state and corporate pinkwashing.
This was a term that was new to me despite being part of the LGBTIQA+ community myself. The fact that this was a new concept to me highlights the growing problem we have in the UK where the history of the LGBT+ movement both in the UK and across the world, has been omitted from school textbooks. I knew virtually nothing about the persecution our community had faced or anything about those who gave up so much to fight for our right to be whom we truly are. This is a disgusting reality which adds LGBT+ discrimination to a shockingly long list of Britain’s hidden shames which is far too frequently left out in the classroom.
Vicky Elliot, Co-Leader of London Young Greens says that “Pride is controlled, organised and regulated by the state, and saturated with its agencies - the police, the military, the Home Office, even arms companies. These are groups that enact violent towards queer people, women and people of colour in the UK and around the world”.
“The British state seeks the assimilation of the least threatening of us - white people, men, monosexuals who marry - and it pinkwashes itself so that it can justify its imperialism and Islamophobia. Colonialism used to be justified in terms of "saving brown women from brown men" now it's saving white gays from brown men, and a regulated, assimilationist, corporate Pride is a symbol of that”.
Pride in the UK started in London in 1972 and has always been organised as close to June 28 as possible. This date saw the beginning of the infamous Stonewall Riots in New York City back in 1969. Since then, the numbers of people coming onto the streets to demand equality have grown enormously, however, simultaneously, corporations and state agencies have become sponsors and participants in Pride which undermines its role as a protest movement which should aim to highlight the struggles that the LGBTIQA+ community continues to face as a result of the state’s oppression. What is more infuriating though is the fact that these corporations marching down Regent Street for equality are also still profiting from our discrimination.
Virgin Atlantic is a prime example. It is a corporation which is directly involved with the deportation of LGBT+ Asylum Seekers back to countries where they face life sentences behind bars, death threats from friends and family or in fact are sentenced to death by their own governments. For example, in 2011, Ugandan lesbian Brenda Namigadde was going to be deported by the Home Office on one of the planes provided by Virgin before the decision was overturned following a successful appeal!
The pinkwashing of Pride is extremely problematic and insulting to those of us who face prejudice daily. This event allows companies like Virgin to parade through London whilst members of the LGBTIQA+ community are forced to watch from the sidelines instead of walking together through the capital to demand justice and equality together! Furthermore, tickets are now being sold for the best seats which emphasise the fact that Pride has lost its original role as a protest movement.
The involvement of big names such as Starbucks, Unilever and Vodafone simply allows these giants to try to appeal to the LGBTIQA+ ‘market’ rather than celebrate our community overcoming the struggles we have had to endure and they certainly are not advancing our interests by participating.
Pride in London urgently needs to reassess their sponsorships and to reassess the barriers they are increasingly placing upon the LGBTIQA+ community as individuals in joining in the protest that Pride SHOULD be!
For me, Pride should not be boycotted. Instead, it should be reclaimed from the state and the corporations so that it is accessible to ALL members of the LGBTIQA+ community so that no activist feels marginalised. This is why I’m proud of the Green Party for turning up and protesting the violations of LGBTIQA+ rights, unlike the Tories and Labour who did not protest at Pride over the oppression still faced by LGBT+ Asylum Seekers.