Student activists Sky Yarlett and Lola Sparkle investigate corporate pinkwashing of Pride and report on counter-events from non-commercial organisations, proposing a return to political Pride for all.

To be honest, Pride has rather crept up on us this year. As activists, that’s not all that surprising: we’ve had a lot on our plates recently -what with the installation of the ConDemNation and the most terrifying Budget in living memory. Not to mention the BP oil spill; Israel’s departure from pretending to play nice by international rules and the rise of the English Defence League, who have taken to our streets this summer to show people that apparently, it’s suddenly OK again to be a Islamophobic in the 21st century. What is more terrifying is the fact that some gay people actually believe their propaganda, which claims to protect LGBT rights, by combating the apparently imminent danger of implementing Sharia law in the UK. This is no more than a shameful attempt to coral the gay community into racist street-fighting. Speaking of fascists, almost the best part of the election was seeing the BNP lose all their council seats, and Nick Griffin trounced in Barking, welcome news to the LGBT community, ironically described as “creepy” by the sinister head of the BNP.

Far-right aside, the Coalition Government have produced class war themselves with the new budget; cuts which hurt the poor hardest and leave the authors of the financial crisis -the banks – unscathed, unsurprisingly. What’s not being discussed widely enough yet is how the budget affects minorities. LGBT, who are more likely to be marginalized or excluded in the job market, suffer job losses, housing crises, health problems physical and mental and be disengaged from their families are prime targets for the cuts in the public sector, welfare state and the NHS. With the coalition document Cameron and Clegg speak in one breath of their “unequivocal support for gay rights” and their commitment for civil partnerships- ironic then that equality to call our ceremonies marriage is still denied in the UK. Portugal managed it recently, why can’t we? The only other mention of LGBT in the coalition document is the pledge to stop deportation of LGBT asylum seekers back to countries where they would be tortured, imprisoned or executed. A worthy promise indeed, and we’ll all be watching to make sure they manage the issue a whole lot better than Labour did. The recent Stonewall report No Going Back exposed systematic and pervasive homophobia in the UK Immigration system, to the point where from 2005-2009, if you were LGBT, your application was over 20% more likely to be refused at the initial stage. Clearly not much to be Proud about there, then.

Pride, since its inception has been a show of strength in numbers, a sense of a community coming together to fight for its rights, and a celebration when those rights are enshrined in law, upheld by the authorities and LGBT people can go about their lives free and without fear of homophobic inequality, ill-treatment or violence. This year marks 40 years since the first Pride march took place in New York City on 28th June 1970 and soon after that on the 13th October 1970 the London Gay Liberation Front was founded. In forty years what has Pride become? Is it still important? Is Pride a Protest?

Unfortunately, complacent with the scraps of legislation thrown at us to smoke-screen the inequality still present in British law and society, most people have abandoned their placards and see Pride as an excuse to party in the streets, drink and be merry. While we agree that street-parties and being merry aren’t per se contradictory to the spirit of many political demonstrations, the politics must stay on the agenda of the day. Happy to capitalize on any kind of celebration, big business has been quick to jump on the Pride float and abuse the opportunity to pinkwash their activites to appeal to the spending power of the LGBT community. Sponsoring floats or stages at London or Brighton Pride is used as a token gesture by huge corporations such as Barclays and LloydsTSB to try and win the pink pound for their businesses, and who can blame them when the business from the LGBT community is estimated to be worth £70Billion pounds a year (2006) ? The pink pound is seen to be a market worth targeting as gay men and women are seen to be high earners with a disposable income, valuing material possessions, rather in conflict with that harsh reality if you’re a gay teen, receiving lower than expected grades after being bullied, excluded by your family and ineligible for council housing (distinct lack of pregnancy amongst gay teens, funny that).

Has the tide turned for corporate opinion on LGBT people since we apparently became wealthy, happy, family-minded individuals? Or are say, the pharmaceutical industry giants just as keen on capitalising on higher rates of mental health problems in LGBT people? When will we see gay anti-depressants advertised at Pride?

A fight-back against this kind of rabid commercialization began 10 years ago after the failed ultra-commercial London Pride of 1997, when Outrage! published recommendations that Pride be community led, although they advocated part-funding through corporate sponsorship. NUS LGBT also passed policy on this subject in 2009, promising a “campaign to ensure Pride is a Protest, by opposing commercialised Pride festivals and supporting political Pride events.” Other more politicised movements, such as Hackney Pride , with Queer In/visible Academy have been set up in the original spirit of Pride, following queerbashing in Dalston, and seek to embody this community led, political agenda. Alternative organisations such as Queeruption , and Reclaim the Scene, who aim to move away from the corporate hijacking of the LGBT Civil Rights movement, are staging non-commercial, grassroots, community events which seek to be inclusive and welcoming to all. Capitalist pressure to consume promotes pressure to conform, which can prove problematic to any who are outside the kind of conventional stereotypes of gay or lesbian produced by heternormative, heterosexual society.

Reclaim the Scene started as a movement against Manchester pride, which closes off part of the gay village and charges entry, excluding those who can’t afford the exorbitant entry fees and inflated prices. Alan Bailey, from Reclaim the Scene said of the commercialisation of Pride; “it’s nothing less than our own politics being sucked up, hijacked and sold back to us.” Reclaim the Scene put together an alternative Pride which was community based, providing food and entertainment and which wasn’t exclusively based around drinking alcohol. This movement is spreading (London next!), and we look forward to people around the UK and the world re-discovering that Pride doesn’t have to be patronised to be a party or a protest.

Cut commercialisation! Say no to sponsorship! Stonewall WAS a riot! Pride IS a Protest.

Be Proud in your city

People we support marching at London Pride this Saturday:

Asylum for LGBTI refugees campaign



Love Music Hate Homophobia