Brighton’s annual Pride procession is one of the City’s great events – a day when the City can collectively let its hair down in celebration of its diversity. Sadly, at today’s Pride, a line appears to have been crossed that suggests that the event has lost its soul.
The issue concerns the treatment of a group called Queers Against Cuts, who, having been accepted by Pride organisers as a participant in the parade, were subjected to what looks like disgraceful and spiteful treatment by organisers and police. The organiser of the group tells the full story here but in summary, it appears that having been accepted by the Pride organisers as part of the procession, the Group was, at the insistence of the police, moved to the back of the procession directly in front of police and made subject to some sort of police containment – the group say they were kettled, the police reject the use of the word, but this looks more like a case of semantics than substance. Whatever the case, they were subjected to treatment that was rather different to that afforded to other participants.
The Pride organisers have started to talk about politicisation. It’s a feeble argument that does them no credit. The four main political parties in Brighton had floats – even the Liberal Democrats, of whom nothing has been heard since last year’s local election rout, managed to field a presence. Of those four parties, three are explicit supporters of a cuts agenda; the fourth, the Green Party, runs a minority administration in Brighton that is reluctantly making cuts. Trade Unionists were out in force; the Queers Against Cuts float was due to be immediately behind the NUT.
It is to Green MP Caroline Lucas’ immense credit that she intervened on Queers Against Cuts’ behalf, but the damage was done. And on Twitter and elsewhere, the Tory trolls have been out; QAC demonised as a small group hell-bent on disruption, spoiling Pride for the majority. Except they weren’t – there’s no evidence to support that contention. As far as I can see QAC were out to make a point and make a bit of noise – no different from other participants.
Moreover, the “politicisation” angle misses an essential point. Pride is political. A public event that celebrates equality and diversity must be political in the society in which we live, when inequality and prejudice remain that society’s default mode. Pride started as a demonstration for equal treatment by the police, in the days when targeting gay men was still an officially-sanctioned tactic, and when the then Tory Government was entrenching homophobia through the notorious Section 28; as debates about equal marriage and issues like the way in which society treats disabled people or the homeless rage in modern Britain, it remains that any event that celebrates equality and diversity must be political. The organisers, now perhaps mesmerised by that offensive phrase “the pink pound” seem to have lost sight of this.
As I said, a line has been crossed. Pride, long a part of Brighton life, has become mainstream – more than one watcher commented on the commercialism of this year’s procession. Add to that a system of police intelligence-gathering that sustains and justifies itself by the collection of information on “activists” – the majority of whom have not been arrested and have no criminal record – and you have the recipe for events like today’s, in which permission to participate stops at the boundaries of political consensus.
It is ironic that organisers and police working together as they appear to have done today would have excluded, by the same rationale, the founders of Pride. Perhaps today has seen the end of Pride as we have known it; a once-radical event made safe for neoliberalism which allows participants to congratulate themselves on being “edgy” while challenging nobody. When one sees reactionaries tweeting in defence of the spirit of Pride, one senses that the game is up. And, as a Brightonian for more than a quarter of a century, I’d find that ineffably sad.