Pride has many stories to tell: some celebratory, some tragic, some past, some present, and some that remain incomplete as their narrative continues to unfold. As is typical to any professional task that is part of my Monday work schedule, I began my morning routine reliving the weekend through photos on my mobile. As I aimlessly swiped my thumb across the screen, I justified my idleness as, in fact, being ‘research’ for writing my own submission on the topic of London Pride, something that incidentally turned out to be true.
As a Canadian from a small city, Pride in London seemed overwhelming in comparison. In the weeks leading up to the parade, however, I encountered disillusionment from my queer colleagues towards the event. Where I am from, the parade is confined to fifty floats and another fifty LGBTQ groups; it is the coming together of a queer and queer-allied community that, in truth, already knows one another. For that reason, Pride has always felt like home to me. Sharing these sentiments with friends, and hearing their own in return, reminded me that not all aspects of Pride come from the most altruistic of motivations – for example, Tom Daley in a tight-fitting tee and angel wings on top of the Barclays float – and that perhaps even my own perspectives at home were a bit naive. Fear not: the remainder of this article is not to exemplify why London Pride has become irrelevant; instead, I made it my mission to uncover those moments that continued to demonstrate Pride as spirit over spectacle.
Exchanges of Solidarity
Walking to the Underground at London Bridge Station at eleven o’clock, the first moment was over in an instant. Hand-in-hand, decked in rainbow swag, and wearing matching pins spouting a provocative motto of the queer agenda – THE GAY BOYS ARE TAKING OVER – my husband and I exchanged supportive glances with another queer couple evidently headed to the parade. No words were spoken, but the meaning expressed in the exchange was sublime. I observed many couples holding hands on my way to the parade, an action that even in the most liberal of settings can still feel awkward. However, the significant difference was that parade day was at the centre of the gesture. Many cities have opted to have Pride weeks and Pride months, yet it is always parade celebrations that bring queer visibility into the world of the everyday.
Much of the parade is garnered towards public engagement through entertainment, often achieved through the spectacle of elaborate floats. Grand displays of ‘Pride’ as a commercial gesture were conveyed by such corporate moguls as Facebook, YouTube, and MTV. Yet not all of these expressions proved superficial. One vivid memory was seeing the Metro charity float featuring the Endurance Steel Orchestra. As a health and youth services foundation, the charity meaningfully expressed the simple message of their core values by featuring a young music ensemble. The uniqueness of this float allowed the public to engage not just with Metro, but with the community that it represents.
In the past, there have been concerns expressed over the balance of activism and celebration in Pride. It is true that, today, queer education and activism exist in spaces apart from the parade. While it is positive that venues such as Tate Britain can have educational events such as ‘Queer and Now’ and the ongoing art exhibition ‘Queer British Art, 1861-1967’, the reach of engagement is limited. The parade will always inherently serve as the most effective platform for activism because it invades the public space, indifferent to whether the public wants it there or not. The social activist in me always yearns for the enraged queer spirit unleashed in the parades of Prides past, and evidence of activism was far from absent in this year’s Pride. Groups such as Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants delivered a powerful message of solidarity and support for other marginalised groups that have been vilified and oppressed by both the state and media. A purposeful reference to the solidarity that gay activist groups shared with miners in the 1980s, the name inspires queer radicalism and stands as a reminder that queer people have a deep and meaningful history.
An important function of Pride is that it affords people a space for visibility. There is an incredible breadth of diversity that exists within the queer community. This year, the parade featured many forms of representation, including youth and elderly groups, families, trans groups, ethnic groups (the Gaysians were a crowd favourite), groups for women of colour, and inclusivity for the HIV-positive community. I name these specific ones not because they were the main feature, but because they are the queer groups too often relegated to the periphery of queer representation.
To conclude, while one might need to approach present-day Pride with a certain degree of scepticism – consider Tesco’s rainbow flags, O2’s confetti cannons, and Facebook’s ‘selfless’ aims to use its recordings of London Pride 2017 to ‘build a more LGBT-inclusive media industry’ – many other forms of engagement remain that continue to make the event relevant. One just has to look for them.
Nicholas Rheubottom is a first-year PhD student in the department of Music at King’s College London. He is also an editor for The Still Point.