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The Semi-Positive Spin on Brighton & Hove Pride’s “Cancellations”

It is honestly a secret to none at this point that Coronavirus (a.k.a COVID-19) exists, and that it has cast a terrifying uncertainty on a global scale. Due to said uncertainty, many events across the world that normally require months of pre-planning have fallen subject to cancellation for the safety of everybody.

If you, like me, are a Brighton-bred part of the queer community, it might be fair to assume that Brighton Pride holds a special place in each and every year you get through, and you were especially excited for its 30th anniversary. And it may also be fair to assume, that you have picked up on the unfortunate news that has befallen Brighton and Hove residents, along with UK pride-goers alike.

For those of you who were not aware up to now, the organisers of the yearly Brighton and Hove pride event issued the following statement in the early morning of Friday 3rd April;

I was obviously gutted to hear news such as this, as Brighton and Hove pride is always a calendar-worthy highlight of each year. However, this notice addresses the cancelation of the actual festival (that is, the music festival that takes place on Preston Park), and most likely the parade too. And while the absence of these Brighton staples will undoubtedly affect the weekend a great detail, I also highly doubt that Brighton will be devoid of any and all celebration of queer rights.

And as a matter of fact, these affecting qualities might even allow what’s left of this years Pride, to be one of the most important years in a very long time.

But in order to make this possible, it is vital that we as a community remember the very beating heart of pride, and that is to exercise our rights, and make them known as visibly as we possibly can

Because after all, Pride is a protest, not a party.

My Experiences of Brighton & Hove Pride

Pictured: Yours truly (and fellow Lunazee writer Joe Corr) at Brighton Pride 2019

The first instance of me being in Brighton during a Pride festival might have even been as late as 2015. The first two years played out pretty much the same way. I met up with friends shortly after work, and we spent our time in Preston Park, funnily enough right outside the festival area as opposed to within it. But I think that an important point to make here, was that me and my friends still had an excellent time in each-others company. And even outside of the festival parameters, it still felt genuinely inclusive and celebratory.

The following three years were admittedly a tad more eventful. 2017 was notorious for being “one of the most chaotic prides ever” amongst our friendship group, mostly because of all of the other parties of friends (and friends of friends) that came together to create one giant and uncontrollable group. I myself was in a straight relationship at this stage. And while I throughly enjoyed that year’s Pride festival for being the first full and complete day of pride, the insane amount of inclusivity and solidarity for the queer community remained consistently the same as the previous two years.

And finally, I cherish the 2018 and 2019 Pride festivals the most (especially 2019 with its 30th anniversary celebration of the Stonewall Riots). These were the years where I have felt closest to embracing who I really wanted to be deep down inside, with minimal judgement, and tonnes of support from my many wonderful friends. I obviously embraced everything a tonne more in these later years, but I think I may have experienced Brighton Pride just enough to safely say that it never fails to being one of the most freeing days for the LGBTQ community, every single year.

But a very important thing to consider here, is that this “festival” has two different definitions. It could either be describing the music festival that would normally take place in Preston Park (and this is what has unfortunately been cancelled).

But one could also describe the “festival” as the weekend itself, and includes every corner of Brighton & Hove, where every year, there is a near-infinite amount of things to do.

In-fact, I doubt that most people in the local community had much reason to purchase a ticket for the music festival, other than the excellent range of great artists who were meant to perform this year. But for me, the glorious city of Brighton and Hove is so supportive of the LGBTQ community, that the entire city feels like one massive festival ground by the sea.

However, there has always been something that had felt a bit “off” about Brighton and Hove Pride, especially in recent years. And this may be an unpopular opinion, but I can help but feel that the increase in commercialist “support” towards Pride celebrations, has soured the spirit of things (even if only slightly). And seen as Brighton & Hove Pride is one of the most well known in Europe, it becomes a big target for corporate greed.

Said corporate greed may drive those who are new to the pride experience away from the fundamental beating heart of any Pride festival. And this is why it might be a good idea to look back and discover what ignited the existence of Pride in the first place, which takes us to the next segment of this article.

A Brief History of Pride

Pictured: 1969 Stonewall Riot

Long before Pride festivals were a fully formed annual celebration, there were small organisations such as Daughters of Bilitis and the Mattachine Society, who organised and carried out what were known as “yearly reminders” in which members raised awareness using picket signs every year to support queer communities against the repressive attitudes towards queer people in America during the 1950s and the 1960s. These reminders began in July of 1965, and continued through the following years.

And while these small protests, along with the creation of the “Gay is Good” slogan in 1968, no event shaped the course of history for the queer community quite like Christopher Street Liberation Day, more commonly known as the Stonewall Riot, in 1969.

After a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Manhattan, New York’s Christopher Street, supporters of the queer community (or “homophiles” as they were addressed at that time) underwent a few days of rioting and protesting, on a much larger scale than movements which came before it.

It seemed pretty clear that said police raid stemmed from the highly homophobic societal attitude towards the queer community (after all, these were times where being queer was treated the same as having a mental illness), which was what warranted the riots, along with the demand that people in the queer community be respected as individuals.

Later that same year, on the 2nd of November, another march in Philadelphia was proposed by four activists, and this would ultimately be recorded as the very first pride march. And gradually, but surely, more and more awareness was being raised around the world, until eventually, Pride had become what we know of it today.

Pride in Brighton and Hove began in 1972, and was founded by the Sussex Gay Liberation Front, but would not see its first full parade until July the following year.

Despite this, it wouldn’t be until 1992 that Brighton and Hove would have its first contemporary pride festival, which would grow into Brighton & Hove Pride as we know it now. This was shortly following the city’s action against Section 28, a low which prevented the promotion of queer rights, and forced countless queer people onto the streets.

That takes us to modern day, and while Pride Festivals pre-2020 were still going strong, the queer community across the world, face an increasing amount of discrimination, outside of these festivals.

For many, Pride festivals serve as perhaps one of the only days every year that allow those to be “off the hook”. But what about the rest of the year?

A report from the Home Office in 2019 (that’s right, last year) showed a notable increase in bias-motivated crimes towards LGBTQ groups. The figures showed that there was a 37% increase in Transphobic hate crimes, and a 25% increase in Homophobic and Biphobic hate crimes.

You can view Stonewall’s response to these figures here.

This may only be a theory of mine, but I feel that the increased number in these kind of hate crimes are heavily empowered by the rise of numerous world leaders, that wield biased attitude towards not only people in the queer community, but also other minorities.

In other words, we are most likely facing a new kind of homophobia, one that is far less direct, and much more facetious.

We mustn’t steer away from the fact that it is indeed the Coronavirus pandemic which has caused so many pride cancelations around the world, but there is no doubt that this situation could empower an even further increase in hate crime.

And this is where the solidarity of Brighton and Hove’s queer community is more important, and more needed than ever.

The Importance of Keeping Pride Alive in 2020

More than anything, I wanted the Coronavirus pandemic to radicalise me, and you should let it do that to you too. In times where all routine and systematic, day-in-the-life order are absent, it is a better time than ever to bide your activism, let the coals of anger harden into diamonds of change, and let your voice be heard.

I am obviously putting this ambition forwards with the hopeful assumption that most of us will be able to socialise in public once more in the summertime (when most Pride festivals take place), but said ambition is that we keep pride alive, in a similar way to the movement that brought it to life in the first place.

With the cancellation of the music festival, and most likely the parade, this pride will inevitably be absent of a lot of the “perks” that we are privileged to have each year. But a makeshift pride which takes things “back to basics” may be our best chance to show the most genuine form of solidarity.

In essence, there are many factors of any pride that are impossible to cancel; your pride outfit, the friends you share pride with, and the splendour of the city itself. An unusual yet fitting comparison would be to the story of The Grinch. Many believe a celebration like Christmas of Pride alike to be “cancelled” when one takes away all of the commercial brickwork. However, you instead get that same celebration in its purest form. Much like how Christmas is celebrated at the end of The Grinch (with the ones you love and a strong understanding of the true spirit of the holiday), I feel that this year is an important moment to take a similar approach towards a “cancelled” Pride festival.

In addition, by treating this years minimal Pride celebration almost like a hard reset, it could potentially be a fantastic opportunity for more local communities and individuals to be more expressive, as many fat-cat companies and outer-city tourists might be turned off completely by the official Pride statement. In-fact, this year has the potential to be one of the best years for encapsulating Brighton as the diverse and highly cultured city that it is.

But the most important thing of all, is to show strength and support for people who need it most. The organisers of the festival do an exceptional service for charities and the community as a whole each year. But now it is our turn to fulfil that duty, in any way we can.

We must not let defeatism be seen by those who want to defeat the LGBTQ community, and this is why it is vital that in the year of 2020, we create the Pride that we want for ourselves.

One Year Later (Pride’s Cancellation in 2021)

It’s pretty damn weird looking back on this article now, and thinking that as I was writing this, the Brighton & Hove Pride festival would surely be going forward in the year of 2021.

However, with the UK still not fully out of the COVID storm just yet, I felt that the organisers of Pride made another careful decision, to once again cancel in 2021. Below is their official statement of this;

But oddly enough, I felt even less upset about this cancelation, than with the year of 2020, mainly because the true sentiment of pride will never fade.

I hope that this article may have given readers at least a little shimmer of hope that all is not lost. At its very core, Pride lives within all of those who have experienced it, and I feel that this year is a good chance for me to give something back.

I also hope that I can try and apply this hope to at least most of the cancelled Pride festivals around the world. But when all is said and done, as long as we are able to be allowed back out soon, I’m sure that I will be doing something for Pride regardless, even if it is only something small.

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