I remember my first ever pride I attended. It was 2004 and my 17 year old self had never seen such a sight. There was crowds of thousands celebrating their existence and it was beautiful. That was the day I got the worst sun burn in existence (I still have scarring from it 15 years on) but that didn’t stop me from enjoying myself and being proud to be who I was. The best part about it was that at the park it was all set up so community groups could hang out together, and it was free. There was no price, no barriers, everyone could be free to consentually love who ever they wanted and it was amazing. Hell even at night the local council would turn a blind eye to the rave party we had on the beach afterwards on condition that we cleaned up after ourselves. Then everything changed.
Now I’m not an idiot. I have run events on a large scale and i know how much things cost. Free events are never actually free when you factor in clean up, electric, stage hire and all that jazz. Council permissions, performers, applications, all take time and yes some people do need being paid. No one is ever contesting this. The question is, are we paying too much for entrance to an event that is designed to celebrate our existence, and what about the people who are LGBT who experience poverty? Do they not get a say too?
At the end of January, Manchester pride announced the cost of their events tickets for this year. £71 for the event. £71 to celebrate being yourself. Of course there was (rightful) outrage as the organizers have priced their event so high that many poor LGBT people in Manchester would not be able to attend the event and that people were feeling that pride itself had lost what it’s roots were – celebrating the lives of ALL LGBT people and not just ones who had a disposable income.
They are not the first pride to do this and they certainly will not be the last. Brighton pride has been charging for entry for about 10 years now and originally no one saw the issue. There was originally options to volunteer for free tickets (which are now volunteer for discount) or if you were a community project, you would be able to get tickets for your group when you applied for the parade. As the years progressed the price sky rocketed and the LGBT and HIV+ organisations got side lined to a tiny corner of the pride park to make room for corporations and straight headline acts on a main stage. We knew that pride had officially sold out when the ‘daily mail’ advertised our pride and instructed straight people on how to get ‘Britney Spears concert tickets’. This year we have Kylie and all we want is our community space back, not stag and hen nights crashing our event and demanding that gay people should not show affection. The last year I went to pride I was accosted by a straight couple with one party covered in puke because and I quote ‘tried to deep throat her boyfriend in the park’.. is this the sort of event we are paying for now? We have out priced poor gay people to make way for the straight party brigade.
Statistly LGB people face poverty and homelessness more than straight cisgender people. They are discriminated against, still unable to donate blood in a lot of countries and still there isn’t global marriage equality. Throw being transgender into this equasion and poverty, homelessness and discrimination rockets up. This is what pride originally was designed for. To understand that we are still seen as a marginalised portion of society but also so we can celebrate our existence and the people that came before us.
As things have progressed and as LGBT people have slowly become out priced and over corporised to their own events, they have started taking pride in to their own hands. More localised community groups such as trans pride Brighton have kept their events consistently free to make sure that price would never factor into anyone not being able to attend the main event. They have noticed that trans people are poor and that you cannot justify huge expenses to people who can barely exist day to day being who they are, without having to make them save up for an event. More LGB people are walking away from main prides and hosting parties in their own homes or picnics at parks. Even anti corporate events are popping up on the same days as the main event to showcase local community LGBT groups and activism – something that has been almost brushed under the carpet in the past few years until Brighton Migrant Solidarity took over the I360 during pride to protest about the deportation of LGBT migrants. This wouldn’t have been a huge deal (trust, the city of Brighton and protests go hand in hand on a monthly basis) if the main company who was sponsoring the main event was Gatwick airport, a hub used to detain and deport migrants. This had been an unpopular choice of sponsorship from the start, and many opposed this, but where else were they going to get the money to buy Britney Spears for the evening.
Corporate and police sponsorship has been used a lot at prides and at cost. Mainly to silence those who are more opressed in the community. The poor, the non white, the disabled. These marginalised portions of the community have had to pay the price both physically and emotionally to have their space in main pride events and even then, those spaces are shunned into little corners, where no one will see them. The people who oppose this? Well after the Glasgow pride arrests following the protests against corporate and police sponsorship, many people have felt that they are now unable to speak up about it. Thus we are in a position. We can’t celebrate pride unless it is censored… the very thing pride was against in the first place.
Our history of pride is based on oppression, of our censorship, our poverty, of police brutality and raids of establishments only because they were seen as safe havens for gays. We spent 40 years fighting this and the only things that have changed in the past ten years are that it’s ok to marry in certain countries. The only difference is that people are now profiting from it and the only people who can afford the luxury of pride are the ones who probably don’t need the space of expression to begin with.
Do I think that there should be a cost to events like this? Yes but donation based solely. If corporations want to plaster themselves across our prides then they should foot the bill. They want our pink pounds so they should earn it. We shouldn’t be sacrificing our community engagement for celebrities to sing and we should make our spaces more inclusive for those who need it the most.
If we don’t do that, then who is our events even for, cause it’s clearly not us.