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EuroPride or EuroShame?

WHAT DO the Mayor of London, British Airways, Virgin Mobile, Ford,, the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the Metropolitan Police,, Gay Times and Diva magazines all have in common? They are sponsors of EuroPride 2006 which this year takes place in July in London.

Gay Pride, an event which takes place in one form or another each summer, is meant to remember and celebrate the birth of the modern gay rights movement that exploded out of the Stonewall riots in New York City on a hot summer night in 1969.

The sad fact is that many gay pride events have moved towards business sponsorship and commercialism and away from fighting homophobia and fighting for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) liberation. The move towards street parties and festivals has given the green light for capitalists straight and gay to cash in and cream off profit from LGBT people.

London Pride last year had politics of a sort, with Bob Geldof speaking at the start of the parade at Hyde Park where Live 8 was being held later that day. He asked people to "think about the plight of Africa", and the Trafalgar Square rally at the end had a much more political edge to it than in past years with speaker after speaker talking about how homophobia is still with us, and a very moving account of homophobic attacks on LGBT people from around the world and in Britain.

The number of trade union stalls in Trafalgar Square – including the FBU, RMT, GMB, Amicus, NUT, NAFTHE, Unison and the PCS – pointed a way forward for the event, linking it back to its roots as a political event, a march and rally for LGBT rights. With the likes of British Airways sponsoring this year’s EuroPride at the same time as attacking the rights of its workers, you have to ask how this sits with the members of trade union LGBT groups who are also supporting EuroPride.

To understand how we have got to this state of affairs you have to look at the history of the LGBT rights movement. During the 1970s and 1980s, gay pride marches were small events amounting to a few thousand. The political demands of the lesbian and gay community were to the fore and, in the 1980s, the Thatcher government’s hostility towards gay rights also galvanised the movement. Gay Pride in London in 1984 supported the miners in their historic strike against Thatcher as working-class and many middle-class lesbians and gay men recognised at that time that their interests were with the organised workers.

In the late 1980s, the campaign against Section 28 of the Local Government Act further politicised and organised the lesbian and gay community. The mass demonstrations against Section 28 gave our community a new confidence and contributed towards the increased confidence of LGBT people within society generally.

This new mood showed that we would not put up with the repression experienced by previous generations and this gave an enormous boost to the annual Pride events in size and turnout.

At the same time, it not only opened up commercial opportunities to lesbian and gay businesses but also for big business to target us as a new market. The birth of the ‘pink pound’ and the business side of the LGBT community was further boosted by the ideological offensive in favour of capitalism and against collective organisation during the 1990s. This business side of the community and big business in general gained an increasing stranglehold and came to see Pride as an event that could be used to market their products and services to a perceived ‘affluent’ audience.

The last free Pride festival, in 1997, was marked by the organisers promoting it as Britain’s biggest free event rather than a LGBT event. It was advertised without any reference to its LGBT nature and was marred by a number of homophobic incidents. The line-up on the main stage was a collection of acts which could be best described (with one or two exceptions) as of the lowest common dominator. The festival was sponsored by United Airlines, which had a homophobic policy towards partnership rights. The organising trust went bust at the beginning of 1998, leaving significant debts to community organisations.

The subsequent year, two rival gay organisations competed to run the festival. Both proposed that entry should be paid for. The decision as to which should stage the event was not made by our community, but by Lambeth Council as the owner of Clapham Common, the proposed site. In the event, the winning consortium went bust just before the event and no festival occurred.

At the same time, many LGBT people have seen through Pride and this has been shown with the number of events setting themselves up as alternatives, with nightclubs like Duckies in south London putting on ‘Gay Shame and Lesbian Weakness’ events on the night of Pride which pulls in big numbers. Even though club promoters are behind the event, it is a move away from the mainstream Pride events on offer to most.

Most of all, many who might previously have gone on the Gay Pride protests do not do so anymore. Instead, they mark what they see as what should be ‘their day’ by going to central London, especially Soho Square and Old Compton Street, to congregate and be in the majority for one day of the year.

Every year since 1999, Pride has been voted the biggest disappointment of the year in the gay press. For many young LGBT people from outside the gay centres of London, Brighton and Manchester, Pride is a big event which can take your breath away. They may go and marvel at the numbers of people like them, on a scale they have never imagined before. That this happens cannot be doubted.

For the commercial gay scene this is indeed part of the purpose of Pride, to draw these young people into the glittery but false world of the commercial gay scene. The message to them is not, ‘organise collectively and you can be strong’, but rather: ‘Pleasure can be provided – if you buy into this lifestyle – buy our products to be truly gay – consume to conform’.

Prejudice against LGBT people has not gone away, even though in parts of the world many legal rights have been won and anti-discrimination laws enacted. Similar laws have not ended racism or sex discrimination. ‘Queer bashing’ still takes place on the allegedly tolerant streets of London. The fear of losing your job for ‘coming out’ at work is part of life for many.

Socialists should be determined to put some politics back into Gay Pride. Many LGBT people will respond to the call to protest against the commercialisation of the event and call for community and trade union campaigns for LGBT rights. Gains have been won by years of struggle, and they have to be protected by campaigning.

Prejudice is an intrinsic part of the capitalist system and that capitalism’s ideology is advanced to justify the privileged existence of an elite at the expense of the majority, and thrives on the inequalities in society which it creates.

At times of economic and social crisis, sections of the capitalist establishment try to divert attention away from the way their system operates. By claiming society’s ‘moral disintegration’, or that ‘people from outside are eroding our traditional way of life’, they seek to create a reactionary climate of opinion out of which to gain support.

Taking the arguments for LGBT liberation and the fight against capitalism into the trade unions, workplaces, schools, colleges and youth clubs, communities and voluntary organisations, we could rally support behind the call for genuine equality that could stop homophobia.

A strategy to achieve lasting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender liberation depends on linking the day-to-day battles against anti-gay and anti-transgender discrimination to the struggle to rebuild a mass movement for socialism and achieve a socialist society.

Marc Vallée

Socialist Party LGBT Group convenor


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