Yesterday (Saturday 28th June 2014), I joined other RMT members to take part in London Pride. We collected our banners, flags and hi-vis before making our way to Baker Street and joining the TUC section of the parade, which featured over 200 groups and 30,000 people. The only London event larger than Pride, is the Notting Hill Carnival.
As we huddled together, six to an umbrella, in the unrelenting rain, we chatted and joked to keep our spirits high as we waited for the march to begin. Obviously, everyone else had the same idea, as from the double decker bus belonging to another union, came the deafening beat of Lady Gaga and then some other stereotypically gay tunes. I looked down at my placard, which read, ‘Commonwealth, End the persecution of LGBT people’ and I wondered where the hell am I?
Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of Lady Gaga, though Artpop should be renamed Artflop, but what does it have to do with what Pride is really about?
The first gay pride marches took place in 1970 in response to the Stonewall Riots and London saw it’s first official march on 1st July 1972. Inevitably and encouragingly, these marches have grown and evolved, but I can’t help but feel that Pride has grown so big and so fast, that it is unrecognisable. It’s like that distant cousin you remember as a rosy-cheeked toddler and the next time you see her, she’s almost as tall as you, wearing make up and going on dates.
London Pride was started by a group of socialists, as an act of defiance and protest. It is true that the UK is now a safer and more equal place to live as an LGBT person, but we can’t forget the struggles and injustices still being faced by LGBT people here and abroad. LGBT people in Britain have been some of the hardest hit by austerity. LGBT people typically work in lower paid jobs and face higher levels of workplace discrimination, which are now near impossible to fight due to changes in Employment Tribunal rules. LGBT people also face higher rates of homelessness and are suffering from cuts to organisations that tackle these issues as well as sexual health and mental health funding being slashed.
The RMT theme for this years’ march was LGBT rights in Commonwealth countries. With the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow only days away, we felt we needed to speak out about the fact that 41 out of the 53 Commonwealth countries still have homophobic laws. By now (I hope), we are all aware of Uganda’s proposed ‘Kill the gays’ law, which only due to protests and international pressure was dropped in favour of a life sentence for anyone convicted of homosexuality. In Brunei, homosexuality is punishable by stoning. Stoning. Let that sink in…
So, as we marched (we didn’t parade!) in front of thousands of people, many of them cheering messages of support for the RMT and in dedication of Bob Crow, who was an avid supporter of LGBT rights, again I felt extremely proud of my union. This was the largest audience we have to share our message with, yet we were being overshadowed by cheesy pop songs, sequins and a bloke with a couple of flags down his pants. Surely other unions should know better. The music bus, for example, belonged to a brilliant, militant union, who have taken part in a recent string of strike dates due to massive attacks on their pensions and their industry as a whole. What a wasted opportunity!
I love the party atmosphere of Pride and sense of safety, belonging and acceptance that it creates. I know that it is welcoming and anonymous enough for people new to the LGBT community to feel safe to be themselves in public. In the town (in London), where I live, I have never seen an openly same-sex couple or as far as I know, a transgender person. I’ve seen very open racism, so I’m assuming these delightful specimens would also hold homophobic and transphobic views too. It doesn’t feel like a safe place to be LGBT.
So whilst I’m glad that Pride is a celebration, I think we should be reclaiming it before it gets out of control. Too many Prides have become too commercial. People have cottoned on to their growing popularity and made them into a money-making opportunity, selling tickets for admission and charging groups to take part in their parades. Cashing in on the ‘pink pound’ but forgetting that a lot of LGBT groups are barely keeping their heads above water and the LGBT people most in need of these events, of the inclusion and a safety they offer, are being excluded and discriminated against by being priced out.
Although, I disagree with some of the participants and sponsors of Pride, I agree wholly with Pride in London‘s mission statement, which is “to be fully inclusive of all sections of the LGBT+ community, free at the point of access; to provide a celebration of LGBT+ life and a platform to continue the fight for equality and to challenge prejudice” could someone please tell me how we will continue to fight for equality if our only weapon is a CD player?