You hear the slogan all the time – “Pride is a protest” – but it’s never felt further from the truth in recent years. Until the pandemic scuppered the annual march, drunk bankers on a corporate-sponsored float were just as common at Pride as the protest signs and Steps megamixes.
This July was different. With the regular Pride in London march postponed to September, the organisers of the inaugural Reclaim Pride swooped in to offer a different kind of event – one rooted in radical calls for racial justice, trans inclusion and LGBTQ rights for people all over the world.
Thousands of people marched through central London to protest the corporatisation of Pride and call on the British government to do more to protect the LGBTQ community, particularly trans people. VICE photographer Bex Wade spoke to some attendees to find out why they took to the streets.
“I’m here today because Pride has become monetised and sold to corporations, and the message that we deserve dignifying treatment, respect and rights has been diluted. I think it’s very important to come back to the focus of why this started. It was not only for freedom but for a dignified way of living. That dignity is dependent on the colour of your skin, your immigration status, your health; on your rights to be who you want to be and who you feel like.
“I just don’t simply think those messages are in the foreground of what Pride is at the moment… The people who need more visibility and support are not really held and platformed as the most important thing.”
Lady Phyll, Reclaim Pride co-organiser and executive director and co-founder of UK Black Pride
“We’re here today at Reclaim Pride as it is about reclaiming a Pride which should be for the community. When I was thinking about what it is we’re calling for, I think about our trans and non-binary siblings who are constantly under attack. I think about Black people who are dying at the hands of racists, I think about the fact that we have still got people who are hungry, who have no adequate shelter or housing. We’ve got to be asking for all of it. We can’t just say we’re going to fight for a bit of this and leave that because it’s not as important – everything’s important.”
“Rainbow washing is not working. Trans rights are not being protected, trans rights are not being helped. There’s no forward momentum in any of the government legislation going forward and we need to push for this. This is actively affecting peoples lives. Hate crimes have gone up – they’re still going up. People need protecting.”
“I was an original member of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners in the 80s. Ever since then, I’ve been a political activist. What was a Pride protest has turned into a profiteering and corporatised event, to the point that when Boris Johnson became Mayor of London it turned into a massive tourist attraction and the rights of LGBTQI people were really subordinated to profit. Banks, finance companies, retailers use LGBTQI identities to make themselves look a bit human, to make themselves look like they support equality; but in actual fact they are carrying on exploiting people.”
“It’s important that the liberation movement is not easily co-opted into a corporate thing, especially because a lot of LGBTQI people historically and now have been marginalised economically. Around 25 percent of [young] homeless people are LGBTQI. A lot of trans people face difficulties both in employment and housing situations, and because of that are in a precarious economic state. Corporations can’t just put on a rainbow flag and pretend like they’re serving us when there’s so much that needs to be done.”
“I’ve been coming to Pride for over 28 years, and 28 years with this lovely lady next to me. Pride is important – we came when it was a protest, when we were in danger of losing our jobs, sometimes if we were even just seen. The police then were a different beast.”
“I’m pleased to be back, I’m proud to be back and thankful we could be here, that we could assemble peacefully. People who are vulnerable can’t do that, but we can here, so I’m profoundly thankful.”
“I’m marching for my daughter. She’s 19 and she’s waiting to see someone at the GIC [Gender Identity Clinic]. She’s been waiting for 102 weeks, and she’ll probably have to wait at least another 102 weeks. It’s heartbreaking.
“I’m marching today because I want my daughter to have her identity confirmed in her formative years. She wants to marry her partner, but she wants to marry and have it on her marriage certificate as a female. She’s 24 but it’s looking like she won’t get her identity confirmed probably until she’s nearly 30. She needs to be validated as who she is now.”
“Part of the important thing about this march is that normal Pride has turned into rainbow capitalism and is over-sponsored. We’re trying to reclaim Pride and turn it back into the protest that it should be.”
“A lot of people still need to be informed and realise that that all of us matter, especially trans people. I just don’t think the message is out there to everyone, hence why I think today is an important day – especially to me – to be able to come out for the rights and protest for the rights of trans people and for everyone else within the LGBTQI community. We are loved but at the same time we need to get the message out there that we are fighting for all rights.”
“I actually love that the pandemic and lockdown have allowed this space for us to go back to the roots of what Pride should be, which is protest. This is why Trans+ Pride a couple of weeks ago was incredible. We’ve been given this space to come together and refocus ourselves on the protest, on the message, on the issues and not so much on the soft fluffy celebration from big corporations sponsoring small charities to march at Pride, and [who] do nothing else through the year.”
“I don’t know if it’s been at the back of everyone else’s heads, but I just don’t want to come for a party, especially this year – and [in] recent years – for Pride. We all know the root of Pride and it is protest. I feel like this is the perfect time for us to really reclaim it and say it’s not ‘Reclaim Pride’ – this is Pride.”