Rather shamefully, I have to admit that as a 24–year–old, gay man born in London, yesterday I attended my first Pride London event. While I’m not sure what my expectations were, it is safe to say I left feeling disappointed. It could have been the several vodka sodas consumed during the day, but as I travelled back home I decided that I probably wouldn’t be attending again.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have a good time. I enjoyed the crowds full of different sexualities, ethnicities and backgrounds, all coming together to dance to bad Kylie Minogue remixes. I even enjoyed the young man who said to me “oh honey, don’t ever give anybody that look ever again,” obviously not a fan of the way I observed his outfit – a tiny pair of dungarees and nothing else.
The part I didn’t enjoy? The commercialisation. It seemed this year, more than ever, sponsorship was the hot new thing for brands’ marketing departments to show that they were "woke". So much so, that a visit to Pride in London’s website revealed there is a tier system from headline sponsors, like Barclays, down to standard sponsors like Skittles and the movie Despicable Me 3. Not to mention the gold, silver and bronze sponsors in between, among them Tesco, Virgin, Vodafone and Deliveroo.
“Should London Pride posters really be sponsored by the Minions?”
While I understand that sponsorship is a necessary evil for events like Pride to continue to grow successfully, I couldn’t help but think about first ever London event – held in 1972 – which was first and foremost a march. Taking to the streets of Islington, 2000 men and women faced hostility from booing spectators who hurled abuse as well as bottles and pennies at them. Thankfully this is not something that we have to face at Pride now, and the march still exists, but should our posters really be sponsored by Minions?
The official posters themselves were a testimony to how wrong it can go. #LoveHappensHere – the title of this year’s event – completely eliminated the dirty, and messy parts of being a homosexual male. In my opinion, rather than sweet platitudes, nothing says out and proud more than a sweaty bear (an older, hairier homosexual man) strutting down Old Compton Street in a leather harness and jockstrap. And let’s be honest, more than a few men probably went home with somebody whose name they didn’t even know last night.
If all of that didn’t already leave a sour taste in my mouth, the cherry on top came during the event – a video message from Prime Minister Theresa May, sharing her opinion on what Pride is. Far too busy to show her support in person – unlike Mayor Sadiq Khan who joined the parade – she came in via video, almost devoid of emotion; the complete antithesis of what the event actually represents.
While usually anything stiff goes down a treat at Pride, unsurprisingly the video was met with boos from the crowd. “Pride brings people together in joyful celebration… and at it’s heart, it is about a simple thing – love,” May said. Which of course begs a number of questions: where was the love in 2002 when she voted against gay adoption? Or more recently, when she signed a £1.5 billion deal to prop up her minority government with the DUP?
In case you didn’t get the memo, the Northern Irish party are notoriously homophobic and anti–choice, and no matter how hard they claim not to be their previous scandals are more enlightening. Members of the party have likened gay parents to child abusers, and their health minister was genuinely confused when he found out that HIV wasn’t just a disease for gay people. In fact, seven of the ten MPs the Conservative government have jumped into bed with have spoken out publicly against the LGBT+ community.
I absolutely believe that Pride is a safe space for queer people to be themselves without fear of judgement or hatred, but I can’t help but think while we are celebrating it is so easy to forget the world outside of the bubble. The policeman who proposed to his partner at last year’s London event was subjected to a barrage of hatred online, after the video went viral. He shared with the Guardian that he received countless messages telling him that he and his fiancé should be hanged; even his workplace wasn’t safe, facing further hostility from a colleague. My own personal experiences of hatred have been thankfully infrequent since I left high school, but the irony wasn’t lost on me when a group of young boys on bikes yelled “faggot” at me on my way to Soho.
“I love shamelessly shaking my ass to Rihanna just as much as the next gay man, but it is so clear that there is a long way for us to go”
Don’t just take it from me though, the statistics themselves speak volumes. Last year’s Hate Crime Report revealed that homophobic attacks had increased by 147 per cent, and let’s not forget the terrifying fact that four out of five LGBT+ people who will experience a hate crime in their lives. On the flipside, only an inexcusable 1 per cent of those reported are proven to be hate crimes by a court.
I love shamelessly shaking my ass to Rihanna just as much as the next gay man, but it is so clear that there is a long way for us to go. Having equal marriage and the first Gay Bachelor shouldn’t be a job well done. Aside from the uncertain future for LGBT+ people in the UK, we need to be more outspoken and resilient for those who face adversity globally – especially under Trump’s presidency in America, or in Chechnya where violence towards gay men often means murder.
I want Pride to stand up against that, for the more cynical like me and for the wider community. We owe it to the people who fought for the rights we have today, and for future generations who deserve to be truly equal.