In light of yesterdays revelation that there is no separate bi representation at Pride in London, Karen takes the role of critical friend and asks what is Pride for?
In the 1980s there was a TV show called Worsel Gummidge. It was about a magic scarecrow who changed his head according to what he wanted to do. If brains were needed he put on his professor head and if a tractor needed fixing his engineers head. Sometimes when dealing with the LGBTQ+ community this feels like it would be a very useful option. Someone says “Gay people are not born this way”. Do I need my Pat Calfifa head and a fist-bump of solidarity? Or do they need a hug and support as they wrestle with internalised self hate? Or are they just another homophobe who thinks choosing to be LGBTQ+ is killer argument, in a debate they are having with themselves?
Given that we do not have the useful ability to switch heads, instead we have to carry these nuances, and sometimes contradictions around in our own heads. Never is this more necessary than when it comes to Pride. Before we can even choose which head we should be wearing, we have to ask what is Pride for? It is an increasingly difficult question to answer. Pride is partially a party, partially a visible statement of existence, partially an opportunity for organisations to make a “statement” and very rarely political. This last point can be a contentious one.
Whilst Pride marches began as acts of political protest they have moved very far from those roots. When Pittsburgh renamed its Pride the EQT Equality March it was in many ways simply taking corporate sponsorship to its logical conclusions. Many LGBTQ+ people know they will be outnumbered by cis/het people on Prides now, and the rainbow party has become big business.
The reaction to this, of alt prides, and a “lets put the show on in the barn” attitude may sound commendable, and they are great events, but, they ignore why sponsorship was needed in the first place. Is “the barn” accessible? Are there toilets, which as well as being gender neutral can accommodate wheel chair users? Are there safeguarding policies and procedures which ensure queer kids are safe? What about rape and sexual assault services? Can they signpost people to PeP and the morning after pill if needed? Money meant Prides could grow. This is not a good or a bad thing, it is just what has happened, and we have no time machines to alter that. Prides are not the political protests of yesteryear, nor can they return to being them. To demand they do so is kind of like demanding blue passports, clinging onto a myth of a golden age, which never existed in the first place.
we have to ask what is Pride for?
The question still stands though – what is Pride for? We can certainly say one function it still serves is visibility, and this is a vital one. Despite the impression that is sometimes given visibility still matters; kids still need to know its okay to be themselves, grandparents need to know they can finally come out, people of all ages need to see themselves reflected in a loud, and yes proud, way. Which is why it was incredibly disappointing to see Pride in London dismissing the lack of bi representation this year in email exchanges with the editor of Biscuit magazine.
Let’s skip over the misogyny implicit in describing a woman as demanding, and consider which “head” Pride in London should have been wearing. They are a large event, with many corporate sponsors. Organisations gain a tick in the box marked inclusive for working with them. They charge to participate, and have a sales arm. As a professional working in the LGBTQ+community my first question is where is their monitoring? Where is their evaluation to ensure that they are meeting equality and diversity targets.
Yes, it’s dull. Yes, we all sigh when Human Resources send round monitoring forms, but it matters, because if you don’t do this work, you cant see who isn’t being reached. It is not good enough to say, as the Pride in London Twitter account did, that its an open application process and basically bisexuals didn’t pull their finger out. LGBTQ+ representation should not be a meritocracy, only representing those with the most money, and cultural and social capital.
Prides are not the political protests of yesteryear, nor can they return to being them. To demand they do so is kind of like demanding blue passports, clinging onto a myth of a golden age, which never existed in the first place.
London (and some other) Prides need to decide which head they are wearing. They make much of being run by volunteers, but they charge for admission, for groups to march, receive sponsorship. When an organisation acts on one front like a business, people expect better from them, as they should. If I pay to go to your event, I will have different expectations than if it is a pot luck picnic in a park. Two years ago, in the UKIP debacle, a political party who oppose immigration was allowed to march ahead of queer People of Colour. I would have imagined that Pride in London had the conversations internally about who they are, and what they are for after this. That doesn’t seem to have happened which is worrying, but even more worrying is the impression that Prides seem to exist solely to perpetuate their own existence. Whenever that happens to a charity or third sector organisation it is the job of critical friends to ask the hard questions.
It seems the lack of bi groups at Pride may be rooted in the leave of absence of the Pride in London bi rep. Throughout today the Pride in London Twitter account has defended their failure to ensure there is a visible bi presence this year. Again, this seems to speak to a failure to consider who, and what, they are. If they are a community group, they must represent all sections of the community. If they are a business, or acting like a business, then they need to do just that, treat people professionally. If they are simply in the business of making sure Pride in London happens, they we need to ask why, and who that benefits.
Follow Karen on Twitter (@CounsellingKaz)