It’s a common grump among the gay community that Pride is no longer political. Worse still, some say, it’s actually become meaningless. Civil partnerships, an equal age of consent and the abolition of Section 28 all ensured that for a generation of younger lesbian, gay and bisexual people, full legal equality has been delivered.
Pride marches never seem to tell a coherent narrative, but are in fact many things to many different people. And in a week in which New York legalised gay marriage, this year’s event was just as much a cultural rather than a political celebration of what it means to be gay in the capital. There was clearly no overwhelming call from pride-goers for the benefits of ‘proper’ marriage to be considered in the UK.
Heading the march was Deputy Mayor Richard Barnes (Boris Johnson did not appear), former Mayor Ken Livingstone and the redoubtable Peter Tatchell, who gave So So Gay an exclusive interview back in May, in which he explained why Pride remains so important – particularly in places like Russia.
Pride had an exceptionally corporate feel to it this year, with the dominance of sponsors on branding and promotional material both in the march and on the main stage in Trafalgar Square. Particularly notable was the supermarket chain Tesco, whose Out at Tesco employee group seemed to stretch for miles. There was however, still room for the more traditional trade union and grassroots elements as well as representation from Amnesty, Stonewall, and various public sector organisations. Fewer musical groups in the parade made for less atmosphere than in previous years, not helped by a much lower turn-out of people along the route, which had been significantly curtailed as a result of roadworks on Oxford Street.
Over in Trafalgar Square, Pride-goers were treated to performances from the Original Bucks Fizz, Brighton-based all-girl folk rockers Grey Matter and X-Factor contestant Rachel Adedeji, among others. Former England rugby star Ben Cohen, camp trio The Face and the Dame Edna Experience added to the main-stage line-up, as well as Stavros Flately, finalists from Britain’s Got Talent.
‘We’re out, proud and here’ said Richard Barnes, kicking off the speeches. ‘Next year, it’s not just the Olympics, but we’re going to have World Pride here in London. And the eyes of the world are going to be upon us.’ Barnes also announced that ‘for the first time ever we’ve we’re going to have a Pride house throughout the Olympics’, although he declined to mention whether this would involve a contentious ballot for tickets.
Home Office minister James Brokenshire spoke of his ‘privilege’ to attend his first Pride, and in particular his delight at the large number of gay and lesbian members of the Armed Forces who had turned up (we spoke to RAF personnel about Pride back in April). Brokenshire’s boss, Home Secretary Theresa May, had appeared earlier in the day at a reception for the Forces at the Langham Hotel, although, according to So So Gay’s Editor-in-Chief, who attended the reception, she wasn’t quite prepared to join in all of the festivities:[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/#!/andywasley/status/87128103905792000"]
This was no year for political speeches, however – or even much balance in the line-up of speakers who did take to the microphone. This was somewhat compensated for by the presence of Brendan Barber, the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, who reflected some of the significant anti-cuts sentiment that had been expressed by many participants in the march itself.
‘Times are pretty tough, and they’re tough in particular because of a crisis caused by bankers and spivs in the City of London’ said Barber, whose passionate delivery caused an audible gasp among the crowd. ‘These savage cuts … are particularly hitting our campaign for greater equality,’ he added, before highlighting that voluntary and community groups who work with the LGBT community as well as the Equality and Human Rights Commission had had their budgets slashed by the Government.
At the back of Trafalgar Square, there were visibly fewer stalls than in previous years, meaning that many organisations had to share space with each other. Moving into Soho, where attention traditionally shifts in the late afternoon and early evening, ‘there was just a lack of atmosphere outside of the street parties’ said one reveller. ‘But even they weren’t anything too special.’
Let’s be honest – this year’s event was a little bit modest. As usual, though, by dusk Soho had become almost unnavigable due to the sea of people, beer cans and plastic cups. Had the weather not stayed fine, you might have expected even the most seasoned of Pride-goers to have given up and gone home. But there is every sign that the team behind Pride London will ensure that World Pride – in the Olympic year of 2012 – is a truly memorable occasion. We’ll look forward to that!
You can see So So Gay’s galleries of Pride photos by visiting our Facebook page.