This weekend in Leeds was Pride. Sometimes called Gay Pride (it’s not though) Pride began as a radical statement in reclaiming the streets for LGBTQ people.
Pride came to life with the Stonewall riots; a series of demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ community against the police in 1969. “Gay” bars were routinely raided by police in those times but the police lost control of the raid at Stonewall and it quickly erupted into protests; protests that had a very specific reason. Protests that were meant to take back the streets, make the hidden community visible and make a stand. The LGBTQ community began to become cohesive and formed organisations, from which the modern pride comes. Unfortunately the roots of pride have often been forgotten and diluted. Particularly the fact that two prominent instigators were trans women of colour who fought for LGBTQ sex workers and founded street activism to support drag queens and trans women.
I’m new to pride, I’ll admit that. I’ve been to a grand total of 4, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what it is supposed to be, or what it is not.
Although pride is a space for inclusivity it is easy to forget that when you are a non binary, non gay, non straight person. The flags and colours and chants around you fill the air with gayness, the rainbow flag which represents “GAY” is everywhere and the trans* flags and bi flags jostle to be seen amidst the crowds. The hosts and stage presence is dominated by cis, gay white men. The ally on stage raved about her gay children. And all the time I stood in a crowd of *my people* feeling invisible. Feeling forgotten.
There are so many queer issues that become lost in the noise of gayness. The fact that a friend of mine was taunted and heckled for being 32 and at her first ever pride is disgusting, but a reality. Even the gay community turn on their own for not being gay enough, and all the while more and more people become alienated from a community they thought was theirs.
Once upon a time the LGBTQ community held together because the world clumped us all as *other*, creating a chasm between *us* and *them*. Slowly, gay became accepted (although quite often it was provided that the gay was on the terms of the majority groups with femme men and butch women). Gay people who conform to the vision of gayness are far more readily accepted than a radical queer gay person or a radical femme trans man. And I think that this has created more and more divides within the LGBTQ community. Divides that mean me and my non binary siblings are made to feel forgotten and unwelcome. Divides that mean a bisexual woman in a relationship with a man is straight and therefore has no place at pride. Divides that mean a lesbian who has slept with men but not women is not a “real” lesbian. There are still letters of the LGBTQIA acronym that are ignored or even mocked. Some sexualities or sexual preferences are laughed at and some gender identities are mocked for being “imaginary” or just for indecisive individuals. That isn’t a space of support. That isn’t a safe space. That isn’t inclusive. If we can’t even be accepting of our LGBTQ siblings how can we expect our allies to be accepting?
Pride is amazing, please don’t hear me wrong. As a space for being visible it’s great. But it’s not great for everyone. It’s not always great for what it’s meant for. Pride has become commercialised in so many places, with large corporations sponsoring the parade (which makes it free to public) but which means that the parade is organised to within an inch or its life in order to allow the companies to promote themselves. The radical protest that pride once was no longer exists in many places as it becomes more and more organised and less and less “out there”.
So how do we respond to this? If you are an ally, continue learning and educating yourself. The world doesn’t stand still and the gay community of 10 years ago is not the same as the LGBTQ community that exists now. Standing still in a sea of change is not an answer, for allies of LGBTQ people.
It is for us, the *others* to continue to remember what pride is. It is for us to continue to bring the radical protest to the streets, to challenge people’s perceptions and I believe it is our responsibility to make people uncomfortable. Yes, you head me…If we pussy foot around and let people stay comfortable, nothing will change. Pride will continue year in, year out, marching and chanting and being visible but never making a change. We need to push boundaries. In memory of Marsha P Johnson and Syvlia Rivera who stood their ground and made themselves visible, and vulnerable, we need to reclaim Pride as a political protest.
*** I feel that I have tried and failed to articulate how I feel about pride, and I’d love to hear your responses too. Do you agree or disagree? Have you got anything to add? What was Pride like for you?