Contoured cheeks and crop tops. Wasted straight girls with whistles. Nefarious looking dudes selling balloons from canisters in their pants. Almost every instagay in the south east region spaced out at various intervals along the beach with their pals, squinting into their iPhone 10 front camera taking their 40th selfie of the day, just to find the perfect #blessed moment to post when their 4g kicks back in. Yep, it’s Brighton Pride.
In the last 27 years, Brighton Pride has spluttered and spurted into life. At points, it’s teetered upon the edge of destruction, looking like it might crumble under the weight of its own financial mismanagement. But now, as it sails towards 30, it looks like it might finally have started to get its shit together in terms of organisation. Britney Spears headlined this year, playing to a crowd of 57,000 people, artists like MNEK and Ella Eyre also graced the stage, and official and unofficial street parties saw revellers celebrating until the early morning.
The thing is though, behind the sweaty sheen of gurning homosexuals oscillating between shouting “WHO IS IT?” and “VANJIE” at each other, something felt amiss. Previously you could walk around the city and fall into sound systems and stages, but now wristbands are required to access many of the areas that LGBTQ people call home for the other 364 days of the year.
Of course, Britney was the name on everyone’s lips all day. But as she performed her Vegas residency show Piece of Me she spoke to the audience a grand total of four times. In the first of these instances, she screamed ‘HI’ before turning to a dancer to ask ‘Where are we again?’ – and in that moment she encapsulated Brighton Pride. In the ticketed area where Britney played, the instagays and crop tops from before seemed to have disappeared, and the queer colloquialisms that had ricocheted around the city earlier were gone. As we flooded out of the park, it felt like we'd just left a summer festival. Those moments in front of Britney felt less like Pride, and more like Lovebox.
The link between music and the LGBTQ community is inexplicable. From the formation of disco and house by pioneering queer people of colour, to essentially all pop music, huge swathes of the D.I.Y scenes and dance music, we’re there, at the forefront. Pride should showcase and celebrate this, while also making space for protests and lobbying efforts. In every previous incarnation of the event I’ve been to, it’s managed to walk that line. But when the city turns into fenced-off zones filled with fucked straight people babbling on to pissed off looked drag queens about how much they love her hair/heels/corset/nails, all the while being protected from the ticketless by concrete bollards and heavy security, it does make you wonder what it’s all for?
With that in mind, I went out into the city to try and figure out what this year's Brighton Pride is and why so many people, despite the fences and the faff, seem to flock to it year on year.
"This year felt a bit more like a Britney festival than Pride"
Bonnie: Sorry, I just stuck my hand in a bin and now I have juice all over it.
Noisey: Great! Apart from that, how are finding Brighton pride?
Bonnie: It’s my first time and I’m really enjoying it.
Jack: It’s great, I live here so it’s great to see it happen in my hometown.
How does it feel to see so much of your hometown sectioned off?
Jack: I used to come when it was free and it feels strange to see my safe spaces barred off. Like this year they have Britney, but it’s quite shitty to see them barred off.
Are you going to see Britney later?
Bonnie: I’m not no.
Bonnie: She’s a childhood icon to my friends. But not for me, so much. I’m just here for the atmosphere.
Is Brighton Pride about the atmosphere, then?
Bonnie: For me personally yes.
Jack: Yeah – this year it’s felt a bit more like a Britney festival than Pride, which is kind of annoying. This is only the second time I’ll be going to the park, it’s normally too commercial and I hate it, but it’s Britney and it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.
"Pride is about finding my inner campness"
Noisey: How are you enjoying Brighton Pride?
Dominic: It’s good vibes. I put some Abba on on the train down and everyone was loving it.
You were camping it up on the train?
Yes! That’s what Pride is about for me, finding my inner campness, which is not really that inner. Being able to be like this is me, this is part of me. Everyone is just here to have a good time.
What does a good time look like?
Brighton Pride? I dunno. Dance to whatever music you want to, not thinking about who’s judging you. Freedom.
Are you seeing Britney?
I’m not. It’s a bit sad [that it’s sectioned off], but everything gets monetised so I understand it.
Are you sticking around for the street party?
I’m like Cinderella so I have to get out of here by midnight.
"It kinda sucks that Britney is sectioned off"
Noisey: What did you think of the parade?
Julien: It was really happy and free – the acceptance [of it]. Everyone’s gay or trans or part of the community.
Are you seeing Britney later?
Julien: No but I would definitely go. It kinda sucks it’s sectioned off.
Azara: Yeah, they do it at most prides now though – to protect people from outsiders. There are lots of dickheads around.
Have you seen any dickheads around?
Azara: Not yet. I’m waiting for it.
Who would you want to see headline?
Julien: Cher. The ultimate queen.
"Don't just come because the music is amazing… come to celebrate"
Noisey: How are you enjoying Pride?
Joe: It’s great. It’s our first time and we’re loving it.
Ollie: It’s much better than London Pride. There’s much more to do.
Joe: Well there’s this park and the [fenced off] village party around all the clubs and the parade which we were at all day.
Ollie: Am I allowed to say my problem with the parade?
Ollie: So the FA left an empty bus to demonstrate there were no gay footballers –
Joe: Apart from Ronaldo.
Ollie: – And coming from a footballing background it would have been nice to see some role models.
Joe: Those gay footballers would get so many people hitting them up in their DMs.
No doubt. Are you excited for Britney later?
Ollie: Yeah. It kind of sucks that it’s Britney though. A lot of gay people want to come here, but the tickets sold out so fast that a lot of them didn’t manage to get tickets.
So is it mostly straight people here?
Joe: Yeah definitely.
Ollie: Like I think it’s fine for them to be here. If they come in and understand [the history], but if they just come for the party then that’s a problem. Don’t just come to Pride to see Britney. Don’t just come because the music is amazing.
Joe: Come to celebrate.
So, in conclusion… What is Brighton Pride? Well…
Don’t get me wrong, watching Britney mime her way through her set across a big screen while I chugged wine from a bottle made a nice change from doing it alone in my bedroom, but maybe we as LGBTQ people deserve just a little bit more from Pride?
Everyone I spoke to about Pride talked of the parade, its inclusion, its joy and happiness with unfettered conviction. But when we spoke of the street party – ticketed since 2014 with prices rising since, or the Preston Park festival (where Britney played) – the doubt seemed to creep in. As Jack put it, the streets felt more like ‘Britney fest’ than a Pride event. Maybe Brighton Pride is a victim of its own success? The fact it’s able to pull in crowds of hundreds of thousands and superstars like Britney is a testament to the turnaround in the event’s prospects in just a few short years. That straight people might snap up huge numbers of the tickets to the final event surely shows just how desirable it is?
The issue is though, as an entity, it is trading off the legacy of Pride – of drag queens and street kids fighting back against the police, lesbians abseiling into the Houses of Parliament, or queer people simply being brave enough to walk back on their streets the day after they’ve been bombed. When we walk the streets of any city under a rainbow flag, we do on the shoulders of those queer pioneers who paved our way. Our history doesn't get taught in schools, it gets passed from generation to generation in bars, clubs and pubs, protests – and here, at Pride.
Straight people have been important allies in the fight for LGBTQ liberation, but it’s been a fight we’ve had to lead and shout about and bleed for. Now that we’ve won important battles, it’s not time for them to swoop in and flood our parade looking for a good time – it’s time to let us breathe. Let us celebrate and mourn. Even if that looks like painting ‘It’s Britney Bitch’ in rainbow colours across our chests and crying all over one another because we’re overwhelmed by love until the early hours.