A lot has already been written and even more said about the World Pride event here in London July 7th.
Nine days previously, the Pride trust released a statement in conjunction with the Greater London Authority announcing that the event was to be scaled back. The march itself was to be rescheduled to 11am instead of its usual prime time slot of 1pm. No motorised vehicles were to be allowed to appear in the parade. The concert in Trafalgar Square was to be curtailed, now finishing at 6pm as opposed to the previously publicised 8pm. There where to be no official events taking place in Soho and licensing laws would not be changed to allow street parties, so no crowds drinking and dancing on the streets. Venues, on pain of having their licenses revoked, were told that they are not allowed to put public address systems on the street.
The outrage began in earnest. ‘We are being cheated by the authorities’ I heard. ‘This shows that London Mayor, the recently re-elected Tory Boris Johnson, is homophobic’ was another epithet bandied about amongst the gay community.
I understand the anger. I felt it too, but what has angered me more is the infighting and rhetoric that has come from within our own community. To my mind we have not been let down by local government but by those within the Pride London trust who have exhibited a long suspected ineptitude, an ineptitude that meant only nine days prior to the event they had to meet with officials to explain a funding shortfall that subsequently forced the authorities, in the interest of public safety, to shorten and curtail World Pride.
Someone has to pay for the extra policing and short-term pedestrian-isation of central London streets. For the march to go ahead through the busy West End shopping areas there needs to be a higher police presence. For motorised vehicles to participate there needs to be an on call breakdown service to assist in the removal and repair of vehicles, should the need arise. The cost of the clean up bill to ensure that the streets of London would be ready for business on the following day was probably high enough to in fact cancel the event, let alone alter it.
I admit to not normally getting over-involved in Pride; as a hairdresser Saturdays are a busy working day, and since being trapped at the age of 4 while on a peace march in my home city of Belfast with the announcement of a bomb scare, I have not been one for large crowds. And n recent years I have felt resentment at the rebranding of Gay Pride to Pride London. What happened to it being our day of celebration? I missed the days of it feeling like a festival, the inclusiveness of those Brockwell Park and Clapham days when we could wander freely and safely and let pride be what each of us wanted it to be.
Traversing the busy streets of Westminster seemed like an unsafe and dumbed down event to me. Run more for tourists than anything else. But this year the eyes of the world are upon London, with the success of the Queens Jubilee celebrations and the iminent start of the Olympics we are under a scrutiny not often felt.
This week I have arguments with people who have said to me that ‘no one under the age of 30 really cares’ and ‘what is the point of going if the party has been cancelled?’ My answers have been both ‘well people under 30 need to be educated as to why it matters’ and ‘with homosexuality being illegal in so many countries around the world, on pain of death in some of them, then WE who are lucky enough to live in a society that is much more accepting have a duty to campaign for worldwide equality’. I even saw one comment that the reduction in size of the pride event was against our human rights. Well`, Im sorry to say that taking your top off and dancing in the sun or rain is not in fact a human right. Being able to go about your life without fear of interruption or consequences is a human right.
Pride has always been a protest, a raising of public consciousness and awareness. For many years it was the only time LGBT people had an opportunity to be OUT, or to leave our self imposed ghettoes and show the world we are not hunchbacked monsters, but people with feelings and emotions like anyone else. The attitudes I have encountered this week of apathy have made me think that the homophobes in the world don’t need to do anymore to slam us down. We seem to be doing a perfectly good job ourselves.
Our community has had to stand up for much more important things than our right to dance. We are a community of creative beautiful people, so creative in fact that when the ban on motorised vehicles was announced, The Terrence Higgins Trust booked a marching brass band who have spent the week rehearsing disco and show tunes for us to march alongside.
Some may say that we have done enough. Some may say that their work is done and it`s time for someone else to take up the banner. But yesterday I went for a drink after I finished work with some colleagues. I had one of those days when my HIV medication was causing an inconvenient upset stomach. I was explaining to a colleague that every so often I have days such as this due to the meds I was on. He asked what the meds were for and I was completely up front with him. He is a charming intelligent man who asked the right questions and we had a conversation about HIV and long term medical care that I wish I could have with some medical professionals in this country. Yet later that same evening while having a discussion in the pub, this same man flinched when I, while making a point, touched his knee.
There was nothing in the brush of my hand on his leg that was in any way lascivious or predatory it was just me in my way gesticulating and enforcing my point.
Was his flinch some kind of ingrained flight mechanism? Maybe it was homophobia or maybe it was fear of the unknown, an unintelligent reaction to HIV. Or maybe it was literally just a knee jerk reaction.
But it made me think that NO, our work is not done. There are still people to reach out to and points to be made; it made me think of LGBT people in Russia and Iran. People, who could be imprisoned for an action such as mine.
So today I will be joining THT on the March, I will be making myself heard and demanding equality for all, I will even fight for your right to dance.
So for me it will be a STRIDE OF PRIDE, never a walk of shame.