I’m used to hearing the same criticism of Pride in London year after year – how it’s gone ‘corporate’, doesn’t represent the whole community and the bizarre nature of the management of the parade – But this year I found myself struggling to enable LGBT+ educators, those who have battled in a year so challenging only the year Section 28 was introduced seems comparable, to march on the ‘parade’
Ok, so some background: I’ve been helping to build a movement of LGBT+ teachers and education professionals at the National Education Union. Our network is currently at 5,500 LGBT+ educators and is emerging as one of the fastest growing LGBT+ networks in the UK. Our network builds support for educators to come out, to deliver LGBT+ inclusion in their schools/colleges and identify what’s needed whilst calling the government to action.
Even though our network is now enormous we’re used to being given 100–120 wristbands to march in the Pride in London parade (yes, you actually need a wristband to march) and to be honest only 4 years ago we could only muster 12 people to take part.
This year our members have experienced protests outside their schools, had LGBT+ lesson plans removed, been told to not come out and in some cases find themselves the subject of parent whatsapp groups questioning whether it’s appropriate for an LGBT+ person to be teaching at a primary school. Basically It’s been a friggin tough year but, instead of shying away from being visible at pride, our LGBT+ Educators have rallied and we saw over 175 sign up.
To our surprise instead of being given the usual 120 wristbands we were given just 75. And it wasn’t just us, the Kings Cross Steelers and a ton of LGBT+ community groups had their wristband provision cut. So I checked the website and found that over 200 private companies were marching in the parade. It got me thinking what the cost of these rainbow logos are – if a community group of activists and volunteers are being given less wristbands to march because Google and Starbucks are sending a float, aren’t we compromising our communities presence at pride?
Sure, there are staff LGBT+ networks in some of these private companies but let’s make this clear: that is not the same as being a teacher or teaching assistant and coming out to your school. It’s not the same as the LGBT+ rugby team that plays in an inclusive team sending the mainstream a message, it’s not the same as the community group for older LGBT+ people.
We had 175 people wanting to march and with only 75 wristbands I decided to email the co-chairs of Pride in London with a plea for help. No response.
I went on Facebook and did a call out to our fellow marchers and asked if anyone had wristbands. One person offered us 35 but said they’d need to check with Pride In London first. Pride in London said no.
I’d hoped that when I arrived at the parade there wouldn’t be much of a fuss as there hasn’t been in previous years but this year stewards were actively policing entry points to a heavily gated parade assembly point asking to see wristbands. This could be about keeping us safe so I asked if my film crew who didn’t have wristbands could come in with me as my colleague had our wristbands at the bus. They said no.
And you might have heard our photographer, Jess Hurd, had to battle to get a press pass for the march.
Security was everywhere. Security to make sure people can’t march if they don’t have a wristband.
So, instead of telling 100 people they couldn’t come I went up and down the march begging other organisations for wristbands. When I asked community organisations they happily helped out but when I asked corporate entries they said no.
I did eventually find enough wristbands to enable all our LGBT+ Educators to march but by this point I was a total mess.
To top things off we were, once again, pushed to the back of the parade. We were asked to assemble at 2:15pm and didn’t move until 4pm. By the time we were marching down Oxford Street the crowds had really started to thin out.
Can you imagine what this feels like to Queer activists who devote nearly all their time to do all this work?
We are literally being forced out of our own march, replaced with corporate floats with the best sound systems whose only spirit of the movement is the unlimited supply of alcohol to their employees receive that have turned up. Their floats may have a pride flag displayed but there’s usually no message – but that’s a whole other conversation.
If numbers and security need to be managed then we need to stop restricting wristbands to community groups and start restricting corporate entries.
How about If private companies want to support LGBT+ rights and Pride in London instead of taking our space they give money to those organisations who are marching and perhaps sponsor their float?
Saturday’s parade management let down some of our biggest heroes in our community and we cannot allow that to happen again. We’ll be seeking to formally engage with Pride in London and ask that any other organisations affected by these issues contact me.
Photo credit: Jess Hurd