Why the Straight-Washing of 'Pride' Isn't Such a Bad Thing

AllOut have created an e-petition against the way any whiff of gayness is being removed from the sleeve of the 'Pride' DVD. But, as its director argues, if it makes more wary people watch it, isn't that a good thing?

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08 January 2015, 8:00pm

Still via this YouTube video

This article originally appeared on VICE UK

Six. That's how many times I cried at the cinema while watching Pride, the Oscar-nominated film about a group of Welsh miners who were, during the strikes of the mid 80s, given the unlikely support of a group called Gays and Lesbians Support the Miners.

With the music (Bronski Beat-heavy), the accents, and the still-relevant in-jokes (lesbians love lentils!) I had a great time, lucky me, flanked by a girlfriend and an elbow-deep carton of the sort of freshly-exploded popcorn that's all sugary puff and no husk. But still, lucky privileged me with this blessed life cried with euphoria; to see people on screen like me doing stuff for people like me. And I cried to learn the society I was born into was no society, just disparate near-disbanded groups of people clinging to one another across counties like two huffing commuters who glance at one another just after running for and then missing the same bus. Except the bus wasn't a bus. It was food, shelter, and self-worth.

The moment I cried hardest, though, was at the end (this isn't a spoiler—it happened in real life) at 1985's London Pride march. You see the cast, a troupe of cobbled-together lefty queers with their banners aloft and their pink balloons wobbling about, triumphant, simply for their right to march and be supported by thousands of straight allies.

A still from this moment adorns the cover of the UK DVD release. It also appears on the cover of the US DVD release. However, it's been altered. The banner reading: "Gays and Lesbians Support the Miners" has been digitally removed, and the blurb which used to refer to "a London-based group of gay and lesbian activists" to "a group of London-based activists."

This has pissed people off, especially the gay press, which has referred to the adaptation in marketing as "straight-washing."

"Straight-washing" is the marketing equivalent of grabbing a Vauxhall bear by the scruff of his neck at about 9 AM on a Sunday morning, replacing his chaps with chinos, his boots with loafers then feeding him milk and tickling him under the chin until he lets out a TV-friendly camp giggle and loses the, "Look at me right and I'll wank on you," frown. It's making something ostensibly gay a sweeter pill for straights to swallow.

LGBT people are a minority. It's what's special about us and our culture but it's what's fragile about us, too. It's why homophobia is the enemy—not homophobes, or even safeguarding from potential homophobes.

In response, AllOut has done what activism does 30 years from the picket lines and created an e-petition. We can't see the number of e-signatories, but AllOut demand "we need to build a massive outcry" over this issue of re-branding the film.

Do we, though? Statistics released today show that, in the past year, sales of DVDs and BluRays in the US have dropped by 11 percent. Meanwhile, the use of video streaming sites like Netflix (friendlier to gays than Chaka Khan in a shimmering gold jumpsuit) has jumped by 16 percent. The importance of a DVD cover is dwindling even as I type.

And then Matthew Warchus—the director of Pride—has been prompted to say that, although the marketers had been "clumsy and a bit foolish," they did so with a mind to get the film the broadest scope: "But this is a film that is loved by people of all political persuasions and sexual orientations. I'm just keen for as many people who have yet to see the film to see it."

He also added that he "didn't want to preach to the converted."

Queer role models can help make queer people feel visible and counted and relevant and important. But take Joe, Pride's earnest teen rebel who has to return to dismal Bromley suburbia after every gad about with his gay mates. He so desperately needs a decent family around him to feel secure. This film can offer a temporary familiarity to a young LGBT viewer, but if this "straight-washing" means thousands of Joes, scattered across the US, can open the door of their secret life to find their families who, too, were affected by the Thatcher-Reagan years—already watching Pride on the flat-screen TV, then who is it hurting?

LGBT people are a minority. It's what's special about us and our culture but it's what's fragile about us, too. It's why homophobia is the enemy—not homophobes, or even safeguarding from potential homophobes. If you've been able to blink away tears to actually see the screen during the parade scene in Pride you'll remember the "what happened next" bit. In 1985, at the Labour conference, politicians and think tanks were toying with lending their long-term support to LGBT people. The only reason they eventually had to was because of block voting from the National Union of Mineworkers. Exactly the sorts who once couldn't bear the LGBT activists.

It's easy to discard someone—anyone—for their moments of ignorance, and no one should have to pander to the sensibilities of a pig to get them onside. But, in the same way, the Gays & Lesbians Support The Miners shouldn't have had to get Bronski Beat along to sing at their gig to get their community to care about the miners. We dress things up for the people who want them. And with marvels like Pride to help convert those unconverted—to get them to realize that gay people deserve precisely the same rights as them—who are we to get in the way?

Homophobia—much like sexuality—is a spectrum. If we can kindly drag the right-on hetero out of the habit of using "gay" as a slur in passing, or playfully make a guy think twice about why he's really worried about a poofter shaking his hand, well, it's worth that teensy, extraneous "straight-washing."

Follow Sophie Wilkinson on Twitter.

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