Two years ago, I attended my first ever pride as a fresh-faced, straight-out-the-closet nineteen-year-old. The march was a blur of rainbows, signs, shouting, and honestly, I was a wee bit overwhelmed by just…everything. I had never seen so many LGBT people in one place before and I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. Despite being surrounded by so many people, I felt very small and unsure.
I had travelled there, alone, on the early morning bus from my quiet village, wearing a rainbow shirt that burned underneath my jumper. At the march I stuck to the few people I knew and soaked in the chaotic energy. I felt tiny, insignificant, and yet also part of something so much bigger than myself, and I was strangely comforted by the connection I felt to the thousands of people around me.
This summer I returned to Edinburgh Pride. I am now a lot surer of myself, and that morning I had taken the bus with a bunch of pals from Glasgow, wearing the same rainbow shirt that I had worn two years before. It was a totally different atmosphere: as part of the anti-fascist block we chanted anti-tory and anti-corporation slogans, and I was unafraid to make myself visible with glitter in my hair and rainbows on my cheeks. Edinburgh Pride itself was different though. This year I wasn’t marching beside community groups and LGBT charities: I was marching alongside Bank of Scotland and Sky TV.
When Pride entered the mainstream and became ‘popular’, corporations and businesses saw the value of the ‘pink pound’. Now businesses could turn up with a float, hand out flyers, and look progressive all while advertising their company – Pride, it seems, had become profitable. It would be a win/win situation: LGBT people would get support from rich and powerful companies, who could slap a rainbow on their products and sell ‘Pride’ versions of their existing services to those who felt warm and fuzzy knowing their money was going to a company that wasn’t homophobic.
This could be seen as a good thing – businesses at Pride give legitimacy to LGBT people, and any support is welcome, right? Well, when those who profit from the LGBT community become more important than the community itself, then it becomes a bit of a problem. Pride events in recent years have centred on corporations and companies, often at the expense of LGBT people.
Several of the corporations who happily march at Pride also have business practices that directly harm LGBT people. Barclays, a large sponsor of London Pride this year, is the single largest supporter of the arms trade in the UK, profiting from selling arms to homophobic regimes like Saudi Arabia and Uganda. They did make adverts saying “it’s okay to be yourself!!”, though, so I guess we can forget about their contributions to human rights abuses. Pride in London has argued that the sponsor money from companies like Barclays is essential to run Pride. Surely there must be a way to fund Pride without letting businesses that contribute to homophobic regimes profit off LGBT people?
LGBT Pride as a concept originated following the Stonewall riots as a deeply political act of resistance against the homophobic establishment and police brutality. To celebrate this historical event, Belfast Pride this year decided to ban “negative images” at the march, in reference to a sign saying ‘No Pride in Police/No Police in Pride’. Similarly, a DUP official reported a participant at Belfast Pride with the sign ‘Fuck the DUP’, which was confiscated by Belfast Pride during the event. The DUP strongly oppose LGBT rights, calling LGBT people ‘disgusting’ and an ‘abomination.’ Yet Belfast Pride has decided to prioritize the feelings of the DUP over the safety of its marchers. These actions alone show that it’s clear that Pride is being de-politicized, and run for profit rather than for the people it claims to represent.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. At Edinburgh Pride this year I noticed several walls and a large banner scrawled with ‘Pride not Profit’. In Washington D.C., the ‘No Justice, No Pride’ group were successful in blocking the official Pride march several times in protest of the participation of police officers and corporate sponsors.
Glasgow Pride is on the 19th August, and is sponsored by G4S, Royal Bank of Scotland, and HBSC among others – all companies with dubious business practices. Grassroots organizations like Free Pride in Glasgow work to challenge and provide an alternative to the now commercialized Pride. It seems that the LGBT community have to work together to take back Pride, challenge the corporations who use it as easy marketing, and centre Pride, once again, on the LGBT people who created it.
Image courtesy of Free Pride