Gay Pride Should Be About Protest, Not Just Corporations And Partying

Let's make bold placards and hold them high. Let's speak with the politicians, local decision makers and corporate representatives in attendance about what more can be done for LGBT equality - because we're not quite over the rainbow yet, and it is our duty to carry the torch of those who marched before us.
Marc Bruxelle via Getty Images

Next weekend, thousands will take to the streets of Glasgow - wearing face paint, waving rainbow flags, holding placards, dressed to the nines and proudly telling the nation that we're here and we're queer. It's undoubtedly the most fabulous time of the year: Gay Pride season.

I was twenty years old when I attended Pride for the first time and, as someone who spent most of my teenage years struggling to find self acceptance, I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere, the diversity and the underlying positive energy that filled Glasgow Green. True to the sentiment, I couldn't help but feel a sense of belonging - but something also seemed slightly amiss.

I was acutely aware that the crowds around the stage seemed more interested in the pop tribute acts than the political speeches. The food huts were busier than the charity stalls, where educational materials and information about important ongoing campaigns were being distributed.

On the march itself, protest placards were more visible - notably the Equality Network's "Trans Rights Now" imagery - but commercial floats and banners seemed to dominate each bloc. Last year, we led the parade with the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign in an attempt to heighten awareness around the issues facing LGBT youth in schools across the country.

From where I was standing, it certainly felt political, but I couldn't help but wonder what message was being conveyed to the passing public. Would they grasp that we were protesting for the advancement of our rights, or would they smile and think how wonderful it is to be gay in Scotland?

Interestingly, LGBT charity Pink Saltire recently released a promotional video entitled "What Pride Means To Me". Watching it, I noticed quite a stark generational divide. Younger participants spoke of celebration, expressing visible identity, and enjoyment - while, in contrast, most of the older participants discussed their view that Pride was an educational tool, a protest and an opportunity to alert the public about the issues still affecting the community. Of course, it can be both - but there's more to Pride than a fun-filled festival.

Indeed, there has been heated debate about the commercialisation of Pride events across the globe, and whether mainstreaming in an overtly commodified fashion has been an asset or a hindrance to the LGBT community. In response, alternative events such as "Free Pride" have been established as an attempt to challenge corporate takeover.

It's a strange conundrum to conquer as, on the one hand, it is an indicator of societal progress that major brands can now recognise market in the parade - but on the other, if purpose and symbolism is lost in the process, then it's questionable as to whether the changes are beneficial.

Perhaps we should begin to hold sponsors and annual allies to account. Banks and corporations are happy to add a rainbow to their logos and provide expenses for Pride, but when they're also invested in the arms trade and play a role in funding the exportation of weaponry to regimes like Saudi Arabia - where homosexuality is illegal and LGBT people are routinely imprisoned, flogged and harassed - is the corporate sentiment enough?

Ultimately, Pride is both a protest and an act of remembrance. The first parade took place in 1970 to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City, an episode which is culturally recognised as the driver behind the modern LGBT rights movement.

Similarly, early marches in the United Kingdom provided an opportunity for a community - still enduring the worst of state sponsored oppression - to loudly demand equal protection and civil rights. Far from the street party atmosphere of today, these initial protests were plagued by police brutality and public jeering.

I often feel that these roots are somewhat missing amidst the celebratory atmosphere. Behind the event is historical symbolism and so, instead of company logos, it would be nice to see a banner of cultural figureheads like Marsha P. Johnson or Mark Ashton every once in a while.

We mustn't forget that those of us who will be marching on Saturday stand on the shoulders of many brave activists who came before us. Our visibility and our freedom to love is the lasting legacy of generations of unsung heroes.

They marched against widespread societal homophobia, when a brutally unforgiving plague attacked the heart of the gay community and the deaths of thousands of gay men were being ignored by the government. They marched against Section 28, they marched together with striking miners, they marched to equalise the age of consent, they marched against hate crime and they marched for the civil protections that many of us take for granted today.

So what will we march for on Saturday? Will we march only to celebrate our quasi equality, or will we march for a cause? Will we march for the gay men who are being imprisoned in Chechnya? The transgender personnel who have been banned from serving in the United States military? The young people in this country who have taken their lives because of bullying and prejudice? The 42 gay men who were arrested for "homosexual acts" in Nigeria last week? The transgender community, who face institutional inequality and healthcare barriers? The victims of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic hate crimes?

Pride has an important role to play within the LGBT community: as a celebration of progress but, more importantly, as a widely attended protest movement. So let's make sure that we collectively use it as an opportunity to make our voices heard.

Let's make bold placards and hold them high. Let's speak with the politicians, local decision makers and corporate representatives in attendance about what more can be done for LGBT equality - because we're not quite over the rainbow yet, and it is our duty to carry the torch of those who marched before us.

This article first appeared in the Sunday Herald.


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