On the 40th anniversary of gay Pride in London, our community needs to find its voice again…
This year London is set to be a showpiece to the world in so many ways. The Queen’s Jubilee gave us a chance to celebrate together in our communities and showcase the pomp and grandeur of our history. The forthcoming Olympics will present London as a leading light that prides itself on the ability to unify nations. After last year’s riots that generated shocking headlines around the globe, these opportunities have given our city a chance to shine as a modern and cultured place that embraces all.
Our gay community had the chance to contribute to this with WorldPride this weekend. As the march towards marriage equality continues to roll on with support across all three of the country’s main parties, the UK is a beacon of hope for LGBT people around the world. Yet it seems that London’s Pride organisation is unable to get its own house in order.
Last week the event was downscaled, stripped back to a shadow of what millions of LGBT people around the world, and thousands of incoming tourists, would expect such an event to be. The reasons seem endless and the blame always lies somewhere else. It seems nobody is willing to accept responsibility for it all falling apart.
The board of Pride London (the charity set-up to run the event on the community’s behalf) are reluctant to clarify where it all started to go wrong. The chair, Patrick Williams, who was voted in earlier this year says the previous administration left a series of hidden debts and problems that were only uncovered when he took over. He told QX that in a year of recession and austerity, raising the much-needed funds was an insurmountable task. But what needs to be answered is why were these issues not addressed weeks, if not months ahead of time when they were first encountered? In the past two weeks alone, at least two major brands and other sponsors have come forward with offers to save the event. Too little, too late.
The basic cost of Pride this year was £327,345 for the event itself, with other costs for 2012 (rent, insurance, admin and 2011 debt) at £83,412. Pride managed to raise £305,741, with a £105,017 shortfall. However, QX understands from sources within the relevant London authorities that the issues here go beyond mere funding, and to practical issues related to the wrong licenses applied for and basic safety concerns. Organisational issues are also at the root here.
In this age where staging any sort of public ‘gathering’ comes under intense regulations and controls, it’s not cheap to hold an event on Pride’s scale. What the average Joe on the street doesn’t understand is that funds have to cover costs as wide ranging as policing to street cleaning. Closing roads and suspending parking for Soho is a big part of the cost base. Because Pride London’s financial assurances weren’t in place, the parking suspensions and road closures were not progressed by Westminster Council. As a result, they couldn’t sanction any Pride London events in Soho as it was considered a public safety issue.
Two weeks ago Pride London met with the Westminster Gay Business Forum to clarify its plans, sending a volunteer who had been with the group for three weeks to explain to the bars and clubs what they could and couldn’t do on Pride day. He could not answer even some of their most basic questions. The Forum called for a vote of no confidence in Pride London, astonished that they were here again, dealing with another struggling Pride board.
Last week as certain members of the Forum demanded answers they met again with Pride’s Vice Chair who proceeded to reassure the group that all payments to relevant suppliers were due to be met on time and the event was going ahead as planned. Soho was going to get its big day. Unbeknownst to the Forum gathered there, a meeting was at that very moment taking place at the GLA that would see the event stripped down to what we now have.
It has to be said I don’t envy the task assigned to Pride London, effectively a group of unpaid volunteers with their own full time jobs attempting to stage a world-class event with little or no previous experience, except the best intentions at heart. However, best intentions alone don’t get a job done, and when faced with problems of a seemingly unfathomable nature, isn’t that all the more reason to seek help from the community you represent and not to bury one’s head in the sand in the vain hope that everything will be OK on the day? To begin with, what’s needed here is a public apology from the Pride London board. And was it too much to expect the GLA or Westminster Council to step in to save the event, at the very least in order to portray London as a leading tourist destination to the LGBT world?
What’s clear is that perhaps there’s a bigger issue at heart here. As a community we have come to expect certain things. We have come to expect our freedoms and our right to celebrate. We have come to expect that the likes of Peter Tatchell will fight our fight. We have come to expect Pride London to do their job, showing no interest in their organization until the big day rolls around and we discover that actually they aren’t doing the job we want them to do for us.
It’s not enough to simply expect Pride London to represent us as they see fit. It’s not enough to simply turn up on Pride day in your best new vest top, yet complain that the event isn’t up to your ideals.
“Go forth oh wonderful gays, join the march and make your voice heard, then show the world how we do party”
It’s not enough to preach to the world about gay rights and equality, whilst taking our own for granted. Maybe it’s time we all got more involved again. So maybe this year, why not do something different and join the parade or be there to cheer it on. Because if you’re not involved you can’t complain about what you get, and mediocrity is what you deserve. 40 years since London’s very first Pride, it’s time to speak out once more.
So, what can you do?
At the time of going to print the march starts at 11am. The gay businesses are calling for a protest in which those involved refuse to march until the original start time of 1pm – to “March as One at One”.
Soho will not officially be traffic-free, but roads will no doubt be closed as the number of people in the area increases. Also, venues cannot play music outside as was planned.
Trafalgar Square’s heavily criticized stage running order now runs 1-6pm. But do we really need Deborah Cox or some other non-descript pop diva targeting the pink pound in the name of Pride to give us a worthy event? Do we really need a square in Soho churning out house music to show us a good time? We are a world-class city with the most diverse gay scene anywhere without any of that. We have a bar or club or venue to suit every taste every day of every week, unlike most other cities to which people flock just once a year for Pride. Screw WorldPride, this Saturday is ‘Pride for London’, and we know how to celebrate it with a gay scene that is unrivaled on this pink-tinged planet. The parade is still happening, and your favourite gay bar or club will still be open. So go forth oh wonderful gays, join the march and make your voice heard whether you decide to start at 11am or 1pm, then show the world how we do party.