Pride 2012 was to be The Biggest Party Ever. It failed. But it became something greater, something it should always have been.
Pride London lost its way. Catastrophic mis-management on virtually all levels led to a breakdown of embarrassing proportions last week.
But that’s not what I saw when I marched in the procession on Saturday morning. There was more sense of community and inclusion than I’ve ever known at a Pride parade, and I truly felt proud to be a part of it.
This was a Pride not based on profits and sponsorship, but on political ideals, the raising of awareness around charities and good causes and, more than anything, a true celebration of what a community can do when it pulls together in the face of adversity.
No-one marched that day because they’d paid upwards of £1,000 to do so, but because they wanted to. Because they had a cause to believe in, a banner to wave or, perhaps most importantly, to celebrate the fact that they live in a country where being homosexual isn’t a crime punishable by imprisonment or death.
The event I saw on Saturday was Pride stripped back to the roots: a political event, a celebration of the progress made and a reminder of all that is still left to do. Due to the lack of barriers, both metaphorical and physical, it was truly inclusive, too: I started the march with two friends, and no pre-arranged marching group. We fell in with the Amnesty International group who offered us banners, stickers and a place to march, despite us not being ‘officially’ part of their party.
Over the course of the procession our group grew to include nine of our friends, with even more darting in and out of the parade to say hello, give hugs and disappear into the crowds again. We were not separated from those who, for whatever reasons, chose not to march.
The same was true of the streets in Soho: The failure of most of the corporate-sponsored entertainment led to a slightly quieter, calmer Old Compton Street, but certainly no less busy or fun; people talked, drank and were joyous in what turned out to be rather nice weather, rather than trying to fight their way through groups of gurning, dead-eyed all-day clubbers that have been in evidence recently at other, more provincial parties. Local business owners have made known their feelings about Pride London 2012.
The last remaining vestiges of Pride London’s shambolic attempt at ‘the biggest party ever’ seemed misguided and out of place – the ‘SoHottie’ contest, some sort of oddly-concieved beauty contest where the most attractive entrants would win the chance to ‘get their voices heard’ at an international convention (implying that those of us who don’t have washboard abs and bums like jelly on springs aren’t worth listening to), and the official afterparty (despite at this point having precious little to be ‘after’) being sponsored by rentboy.com, a site dedicated to selling the services of male escorts around the world. At best these ideas were misguided, at worst they were offensive and entirely unrepresentative of what it is to be homosexual in the 21st century.
Pride London lost its way, whether solely through ineptitude or with the apparent meddling of the Mayor’s office is immaterial now. (This Mayor who, it should be noted, did not attend any Pride events, but made time for the Olympics, the Diamond Jubilee, Wimbledon and, apparently, opening a cable car ride.)
Pride 2012 was to be The Biggest Party Ever. It failed. But in the year of London 2012 it became something greater: A reminder of what Pride should be. A coming-together of a community in celebration of all the suffering and the hard work that so many brave people have endured, a celebration of the freedoms and rights that we now take for granted, and a beacon to gay men and women all over the world that there is hope because, truly, it gets better.
Disband Pride London. Start again, and from now on take Pride back to its core values, remember the meaning in the slogans so easily and obliviously trotted out. Keep the parties, because we all enjoy a bit of a dance every now and again, but don’t lose sight of the issues that really matter.
The first Pride events rose, 43 years ago, from the opression of LGBT men and women and, as the happy little chant goes, Stonewall was a riot; remembering why this was the case is as important as remembering that it happened. And both are more important than getting your logo featured at The Biggest Party Ever.