Pride in London have, once again, proven themselves incapable of intersectional vision. Lee Williscroft-Ferris discusses the implications.
The concept of ‘pride’ has become the central discussion point within the LGBTQ+ community in recent years. The trailblazers of the 1960s and 70s literally ran riot, did time and, in some cases, died, fighting for basic respect and recognition. It’s easy – at least if you live in a western, predominantly white, cisgender, gay male bubble – to believe that the battle has been won. Year after year, the board of Pride in London have monumentally fucked up, making the kind of decisions that have left the wider community reeling in anger and disbelief. Just two years ago, there was genuine fury at the decision to relegate LGSM and the trade union movement to the middle of the parade line-up to prioritise the event’s corporate sponsors. Last year, an RAF flyover came under fire, with representatives of the aforementioned demographic rushing to their keyboards to denounce the ‘spoilsports’ who had no desire to witness the de facto miltarisation of the parade. The board’s persistent failure to meaningfully engage with bi and trans people renders Pride in London a no-go event for thousands of LGBTQ+ people who feel disenfranchised, disrespected and unappreciated, with good reason.
If LGBTQ+ people needed further evidence of Pride in London’s appalling lack of self-awareness or intersectional instinct, one need look no further than the promotional posters published this week. The chosen hashtag, #LoveHappensHere, reeks of heteronormative triteness, instantly excluding a huge number of people, aromantic and trans in particular, but also LGBTQ+ people who, by choice or otherwise, are not inclined to ‘find love’ at this time. Pride should be a celebration of choice, of freedom, of diversity, of shaking off the shackles of societal norms around sex and relationships. This does nothing to stem the tide of conservative socialisation of LGBTQ+ people nor the pathologisation of polyamory and sexual exploration and, frankly, helps no one.
The visuals signed off by the board (yes, they were actively approved, presumably by several people) are toe-curlingly cringeworthy. Betraying a fatal misunderstanding of the origins and meaning of Pride, the posters are clearly designed to depict ‘how far we have come’. This is apparently measured using a cishet yardstick. And so, we are subjected to patronising statements such as ‘My gay friends make me more attractive by association.’ Because nothing, absolutely nothing, screams ‘equality’ like existing to make cishet people look cool. Ultimate facepalm. ‘Christophe’ from Stratford, on the other hand, has this to say: ‘People think I’m gay, which I think is cool’. The vacuous inanity of the comment aside, one might ask whether Christophe has ever even truly considered the struggles faced by LGBTQ+ people and how he uses his heterosexual privilege to further our cause. In appropriating the experiences of gay people in this way, the inherent dangers of being visibly queer are minimised, exploited for throwaway meme shares. Pride in London have seen fit to go cap-in-hand to (presumably cisgender) straight people, rather than seeking out the thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears of the people they purport to represent. Indeed, the campaign devotes more space to the pontifications of non-LGBTQ+ people than to bi and trans people, which is, at best, remiss and, at worst, downright neglectful.
Another design that incurred the wrath of right-minded observers was the one pictured on the left. One might, I’m sure, argue that this ‘play on words’, linking ‘homophobia’ with ‘gay’ is clever, thought-provoking, amusing even. To many, however, it will merely serve to reinforce the acceptability of what many of us have been fighting against for the longest time – the casual wielding of the word ‘gay’ as a weapon of insult and mockery. What’s more, those constantly keeping watch for chinks in our community’s armour will seize upon this as justification for their own homophobic behaviour: ‘if they do it themselves, then why can’t I?’ It’s so predictable, so obvious, and yet was still rubber stamped by the Pride in London board. The mind truly boggles.
Responding to the shitstorm provoked by the material, Pride in London issued a statement apologising for the offence caused and withdrawing four of the visuals: ‘It is clear we misjudged the content of some of the messages in this poster series, undermining the individuality, importance, and dignity of the LGBT+ community. This was never our intention, and we are genuinely sorry to have played any part in something that appears to devalue our own community, and have removed these four images from our campaign.’
On the one hand, this is a welcome change in approach from the usual defensive, hands-on-ears, condescending reaction from those at the helm. On the other hand, however, questions remain about the board’s ability to make decisions on behalf of the whole LGBTQ+ community. By their own admission, they have, once again, behaved in a way that ‘undermines the … dignity of the LGBT+ community’. If those appointed to organise the UK’s largest Pride can not be relied upon to act in the intersectional interests of LGBTQ+ people, then upon whom can we depend? That no one recognised what was so transparently offensive to your average Pride punter is worrying in the extreme and must surely cast doubt on the board’s future in its current form.
We have come to expect the worst from Pride in London. Their track record is one of complacency, arrogance and ineffectiveness. This latest episode betrays a fatal lack of inclusive vision at the heart of the organisation and, despite the apology, will only lead to the alienation of more members of the LGBTQ+ community; the sad irony is that those most adversely affected by Pride in London’s abject failure to be inclusive are those already so marginalised. Enough is enough. No more abysmal decisions followed up by statements of contrition or – more often – stubborn refusals to back down. Time after time, Pride in London has proven that it is unable and unwilling to act in the interests of those for whom the heteronormative, cis-centric definitions of equality are utterly meaningless. They say that pride comes before a fall – we wait in hope.
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