This year marks the 5th year of the new Pride organisational structure. Is it still fit for purpose?
Image licensed for open use
This week, the Community Advisory Board of Pride (CAB) published its annual report reviewing the 2017 Pride in London events. While we might remember Pride as a series of happy and fun events, with smiling faces and (largely) good weather, this report makes sobering reading. You can access the full report here and the response from the Pride Board itself here.
(In the interests of full disclosure, I know two of the board members in a personal capacity but that does not lessen my concern about the contents of the report.)
First though, some thanks are in order to the board. It is never easy to produce a report that is critical, especially for an event that is largely staffed by volunteers. However, Pride in London is the UK's headline Pride event, and the LGBT community would be doing itself a disservice were it not to review and look to improve. The report is explicitly couched as providing 'constructively critical feedback' for the Pride in London organization and pulls no punches.
The report this year is particularly important as 2017 marks the end of the current five-year grant arrangement that Pride in London has with the Mayor of London. This leaves an ongoing question as to how the event organisation can be tendered out, something I come onto later.
The overall theme of the report is that Pride in London has used the word 'diversity' as its touchstone, and yet has failed to reflect true diversity in terms of BAME, bi people, young people and women. It is a criticism often levelled at 'LGBT' events that they are often aimed at, or attractive to, only white gay men. With an event as important as Pride, there is definitely a need to be 'seen to be doing something'. Often that is difficult - there can be an over-representation of white gay men in those that are willing to volunteer for Pride. In such a case the Pride in London organisation needs to be able to demonstrate that it has tried as hard as it can to make sure there is proper diversity. In this, it seems that Pride in London failed.
On a personal note, one issue that has bothered me in recent years is the requirement that you can only march in the Parade if you have an official wristband. To me this always felt like a limitation that benefits big corporates (who negotiate their number) to the detriment of smaller charities, civil rights groups and those who just want to march. On my first pride marches, there was something simply amazing about walking, singing and chanting along with people you didn't know, but felt attached to (there is a similar scene for the main character in Pride when he first joins a march). There is criticism in the report that, at the march, wristbands were not being checked, but - amazingly - it seems that there is no position that wristbands are even required. Certainly, the tone of the report is that the CAB does not believe Pride in London that this is a requirement of the Mayor's office and will be asking the Mayor's office directly. If that is the case then something has gone seriously wrong.
[There is of course the usual discussion on whether Pride is too corporate. The CAB has suggested limiting wristbands to 250 for any organisation. That seems reasonable. However I do not think that Pride is too corporate. Yes, we may need to work at making sure that the front half of the march doesn't look like a moving version of the FTSE100, but I can remember the first Prides I attended, where there were threatening crowds of skinheads and parents physically turned their children away. So while it may sometimes be seen as a corporate fun day, I would rather that than the threatening days of old.]
A special section in the report was reserved for the farcical Pride advertising campaign. This is something that could be fixed with a proper approval structure, but I have already given my thoughts on that here.
There are parts of the report that I don't agree with and where I think more thought was needed. There is a suggestion that the intellectual property of Pride should be held by the Mayor. That only works provided you have a Mayor that wants to have a Pride, and given recent election results that should not be taken for granted. It would be better to have a proper charity structure - time-consuming to set up but better in the long run.
All in all, this is an open and critical report. What will change as a result of it? I suspect surprisingly little. The simple fact is that there are no alternative groups that are willing to take on Pride in London, and we are only 11 months from the next one. So if anything is to change, it is the Pride Board itself that will need to take on these recommendations, and at the moment there seems little appetite for that.
So, same time next year??