Pride in London’s decision to allow the RAF to stage a fly-past at this year’s event has caused consternation in some quarters. Lee Williscroft-Ferris gives his view on the need for less drama and more insight.
I’m going to lay my cards on the table from the get-go: I am a dyed-in-the-wool pacifist. My views on the military are entirely at odds with the dominant discourse in 21st-Century Britain, which dictates that one becomes an automatic ‘hero’ upon merely signing up and that anyone devoid of a red poppy come Remembrance Sunday is a traitor. The vast majority of people agree that war is utterly futile, yet so many leap to glorify it, by word or deed. In my view, regretting the devastation caused by war is easy; devoting one’s energies to avoiding it in the first place is somewhat more challenging.
Of course, the LGBTQ+ community has an uneasy history with the military. Banned from serving if living openly for so long, progress has been swift since 2000. The past 16 years have seen a shift from legally enforced tolerance of LGBTQ+ people in the military to positive efforts on the part of the armed forces to ensure full equality. We have seen civil partnership ceremonies take place in barracks, out gay servicemen on the cover of Soldier magazine and, as of 2008, army and RAF personnel are able to attend Pride marches in uniform.
My views on the military are entirely at odds with the dominant discourse in 21st-Century Britain, which dictates that one becomes an automatic ‘hero’ upon merely signing up
All of this explains this week’s news that plans are afoot for a fly-past by the Red Arrows as part of Pride in London. Needless to say, this has been met with calls for protest in some quarters, the move described variously as the ‘militarisation of Pride’ and ‘an unnecessary, offensive stunt’. Just as swift were the bite-backs. Scores of
people white cis gay men took to their keyboards in frustration at what they perceived as a tendency to ‘be offended by everything’. ‘We couldn’t even serve in the military before 2000’, cried one such Outraged-Of-Britain, ‘We should celebrate this!’.
I find no fault with that sentiment. Pride is the most natural arena in which to beat the drum in recognition of what our community has achieved. This includes the open door to the military for those with a burning desire to ‘serve Queen and country’. As with everything, however, there have to be limits. Just as the Pride in London board judged LGSM and the trade unions’ presence at last year’s event to be of secondary importance to the spotlight on its corporate sponsors, so the LGBTQ+ community is entitled to express its disquiet at this proposed audacious display of military solidarity. For most represented groups, a simple float suffices. An RAF fly-past may well make many gays look up and whoop in delight; for others, it represents a superfluous gesture and yet another symbol of the disconnect between many members of the LGBTQ+ community with the wider issues of our society.
There will undoubtedly be people attending Pride who have been forced to flee their homelands as a result of war and homophobic persecution. The inconvenient truth is that our armed forces have played a leading role in causing some of the worst global upheaval and instability of the last century. Furthermore, it is with military support that the British Empire was able to impose its own brand of colonial LGBTQ+ oppression on countless peoples across the world, a legacy that continues to blight the lives of untold millions of our brethren. It strikes me as characteristically self-congratulatory and short-sighted of certain sectors of our community to reject criticism of Pride in London’s plans. Then again, when it comes to intersectionality, taking a broader view of the world around us, call it whatever you like, LG
BTQ+ people are all too often hostages to tunnel vision.
Just as the Pride in London board judged LGSM and the trade unions’ presence at last year’s event to be of secondary importance to the spotlight on its corporate sponsors, so the LGBTQ+ community is entitled to express its disquiet at this proposed audacious display of military solidarity.
I’m not a spoilsport. I enjoy the sight of a man in military uniform as much as anyone. I welcome the progress made on LGBTQ+ equality in the armed forces. I celebrate the breakneck evolution from outright ostracisation to full, unconditional integration. Sometimes, however, less is more. A less extravagant exhibition of military pride would be more inclusive and, crucially, it would send out the desperately necessary message that when it comes to Pride, it shouldn’t just be a jubilant collective back-pat for the ‘haves’. We need to look beyond our own noses and listen to the ‘have nots’. That our armed forces as an entity have contributed to that imbalance is indisputable. A little more insight and a whole lot more readiness to listen on the part of the Pride in London board is not only advisable; it is indispensable if Pride is ever to pull itself back from the brink of becoming a self-satisfied, corporate-obsessed smug-fest for the lucky few.
Follow Lee on Twitter (@calamospondylus)