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No Pride In War, London 2017
No Pride In War, London 2017courtesy of Ashley Joiner

The documentary tracing the bright, spirited history of LGBTQ+ protest

Ashley Joiner’s Are You Proud? is an in-depth portrait of Pride – from the Gay Liberation Front’s first event to controversial corporate sponsorship

Growing up, Ashley Joiner felt a sense of disparity between the working-class environment he was in, where he barely knew or saw any gay people, and his need for a supportive LGBTQ+ community as he began to discover his own sexuality as a gay man. His new film Are You Proud? was born of a desire to better understand and be a part of queer culture, but it mutated into something much, much bigger: a beautiful testament to past and contemporary LGBTQ+ activism in Britain, a portrait of why we have Pride to begin with, and why we still need it. 

Joiner’s film brings together rare archive footage of historical campaigns such as the Gay Liberation Front’s first Pride event in Britain in 1972 and 1980s AIDS activist marches in the UK, and melds it with numerous interviews with prominent members of today’s LGBTQ+ community, such as Lady Phyll from UK Black Pride, or campaigner Peter Tatchell. By looking at the various incarnations of “Pride” – from Queer Picnic, to Brighton Trans Pride, to Pride in London (the city’s main event) – it also asks: are more Prides a good thing or a bad thing? 

50 years on since the Stonewall riots, 2019 provides the perfect time to question the extent to which fundamental LGBTQ+ rights have been achieved in Britain and beyond. Joiner acknowledges the huge amount of progress the UK has made in terms of legislation and cultural attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community, but he encourages us not to get complacent. His film galvanises viewers to go out and march for what they believe in, as well as encouraging an appreciation of the re-energised solidarity within the LGBTQ+ community.

Here, he delves deeper into how the project came about, the importance of intersectionality, and discusses the ever-contentious issue of the pink pound.

So, why did you choose now to launch this film now? 

Ashley Joiner: I actually started researching the project five years ago, and I spent two years trying to get the project made. I really struggled to get the funding, or find people willing to contribute, because a lot of the feedback was, ’why do we need a documentary about Pride?’ It wasn’t until the shooting in Orlando in 2016 that people started to understand why I wanted to document our history. The first day of filming was actually at the Orlando vigil in Soho. It was really an incredible moment for us as a community in London. I’m glad that discussions around our history and Pride have grown since then, and not just as a response to the film. I think people are realising that the realities LGBTQ+ people face don’t stop at wanting equal marriage. I really hope that the film coming out now adds to this conversation.

You mentioned how long this project has been in the pipeline for, how did you go about researching it? And how did you decide on the structure of the film?

Ashley Joiner: Before I started filming, I looked into our history but it was a lot of reading and most of it wasn't personable. So much of our history has been erased and so we are now in a process of trying to unearth our history. It was only around the time of the vigil that I started getting actively involved in community groups – and not just with those associated with the film. I started meeting other people in the community on an individual and personal level, and then the story really started to take shape. For instance, Lisa Power wrote an incredible book called No Bath But Plenty of Bubbles that influenced me a lot, but reading just isn’t the same as meeting people in real life and getting their personal stories.

So the film really was an exploration that was constantly evolving as I was meeting new people; as I met one person, they would introduce me to another and it would really grow from there. Then, when we got to the editing process, we didn’t have a predetermined narrative or structure which is why it’s not in chronological order. Instead, we looked at reoccuring themes and really worked with the content rather than trying to prescribe what the narrative should be. This film really has been made by the community for the community – we listened to what people thought were the most important topics to cover and put that forward.

Intersectionality is such a prominent theme throughout the film and how it’s been, and still is, such a learning curve for the community...
Ashley Joiner:
One of the most important things we need to realise is that, if one group is oppressed, then we are all feeling that oppression. When Huey P. Newton – who was leading the Black Panthers – invited the Gay Liberation Movement and the Women’s Movement together to join their revolutionary ranks, there was an understanding that we are all interconnected and we need to fight for each other. That’s something that has been lost in many movements, not just the LGBTQ+ movement.

But there is this new, re-energised understanding that we do need to come together. Especially in the UK where our new Prime Minister has attacked pretty much every marginalised group. All of that oppression is instantly connected, so I hope the film shows that. I think that’s also why it’s not a chronological film – because we need to understand that those oppressions perceived as being in the past are still an issue today for some people. 

Are there any issues that you think are most urgently pressing the LGBTQ+ community today? 

Ashley Joiner: I think that, first, we have to acknowledge the huge amount of progress that has been made in the UK, which should be celebrated. But I do think we now need to take a global vision when we’re talking about LGBTQ+ rights. For instance, the murders in Honduras – there wasn’t any media coverage of that and those are people’s daily realities across certain parts of the world. We do have a responsibility to reach out to those communities and ask ‘how can we support?’ because over half of the countries that still criminalise homosexuality are former colonies. Not that we need to go over and change things because we don’t need a new, re-energised imperialism!

I think we also need to ask how can we in this country start putting pressure on our own government? A recent report showed that 78 per cent of asylum cases in the UK are rejected, and a lot of the questioning is overtly related to sex. So you have a Home Office that is deciding that homosexuality is purely sexual, that us as LGB people are only defined by who we have sex with and nothing else. I just don’t think that’s right.

Did you consider exploring working class LGBTQ+ communities specifically in the film? Or did you do any research into the effect of class distinctions?

Ashley Joiner: There was a bit of research, especially when looking into the pre-1967 Act because it was a huge issue then. It really is a huge issue now. There were only two contributors who touched upon it actually, and they were older contributors. And what they were saying was that, when they were younger, activism was a lot easier because day-to-day living was easier and cheaper. Nowadays, so many of us are just trying to survive when we live in a city like London. Then to be able to consistently dedicate time to activism is difficult because we are struggling in this economy to put a roof over our heads. That’s where class really does become an issue. It’s not a solid theme in the film, but it is still something really important to consider. We’ve had ten years of austerity so it’s something that we need to be talking about. But then again, it goes back to how we need to look at how everything is connected, and how we have to look at these issues intersectionally. Class is definitely one of those things that needs to be brought into consideration there.

The commercialisation of Pride has become more and more of a contentious issue over the years. What are your thoughts about the current conversations happening around corporations getting involved? 

Ashley Joiner: It’s a very grey area because corporations have to be critiqued on an individual basis. It’s not a case of saying ’no’ to all corporations or ’yes’ to all corporations. If we look at companies like Levi’s and MAC, they were the first corporations to respond to the AIDs crisis and try and support the community in the 1980s. They have long-standing support for the LGBTQ+ community. But, there are other companies like BAE Systems who are manufacturing weapons of mass destruction that could kill communities around the world. Which feeds back to our UK government and the hypocrisy of their messages. For example, Dimitri’s story in the film shows how the UK government is putting pressure on Russia to support LGBTQ+ people but then when he comes to the UK for asylum, he’s locked up in detention. There’s this huge hypocrisy and people aren’t connecting the dots. 

”We don’t just need to rely on Pride, we need queer people to come together and organise whatever it is that they want to organise“ – Ashley Joiner

Was there something you found particularly moving or enlightening when making Are You Proud?

Ashley Joiner: On a very personal level, I needed to make the film in order to find a place for myself in this world. I didn’t feel like I had grown up in or with a supportive gay community. I didn’t have that and it was something that I really was in need of. So I went out searching for it, and what I found was this really beautiful, supportive community. Finding that support system, and understanding that it was there for me –and still is – is something I’m very grateful for. Hopefully it shows others that there are people who are fighting for you, and there always have been, and will continue to be.

But we don’t just need to rely on Pride, we need queer people to come together and organise whatever it is that they want to organise. It doesn’t have to be on the scale of Pride, it could be anything. It’s really important to take up space in non-LGBTQ+ spaces too. When those conversations start happening about ‘How can I be a better ally?’ then you start to question how you can be a better ally to other marginalised groups. Which is what is so important; it’s not just about being an ally for the LGBTQ+ community, but about all of us coming together to be better allies for each other. 

Finally, what are you most proud of, in terms of the film?

Ashley Joiner: I think the thing I’m most proud of in the film is that each contributor is connected to the next and the one before. You start with a 96-year-old gay man who served in World War II but you end with a Jamaican lesbian refugee. Those two people, who are seemingly unconnected, are connected by every person’s contribution in between. 

Are You Proud? is in UK cinemas from July 26