Where Pride Went Wrong

We spoke to activist Dan Glass about the commercialisation and militarisation of London Pride.

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06 July 2017, 8:00am

Dan Glass (right) carrying a coffin for Pride in the Pride parade

As the years plough on, more and more members of the LGBTQ community become frustrated with what London Pride has come to represent. In 2015, huge corporations like Citibank, Barclays and Starbucks were pushed to the front of the parade, while trade unions were relegated to section C. The same year, UKIP was invited to join in, despite a deep and entrenched history of homophobia in the party. Not a great start.

Angry at the presence of a political party that proposed a ban on HIV-positive migrants entering the UK, left-wing activist Dan Glass and other members of the LGBTQ community revolted. Dressed in black jackets and rainbow feather boas, they staged a mock funeral procession to symbolise the death of Pride, carrying a coffin through the parade.

Then, in 2016, Pride became militarised, with stiff men in red coats marching left-right-left; defence company BAE Systems sponsoring the event; and the Red Arrows doing a flyover – which, considering the Army's history when it comes to gay rights, didn't really chime all that well. To protest all that, Dan and some friends formed No Pride in War and sent a group of queer grim reapers to dump a body outside BAE Systems HQ.

Ahead of this year's Pride, we spoke to Dan about where he thinks it all went wrong.


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VICE: Why do you think Gay Pride has become such a commercial event?
Dan Glass: Londoners have become complacent because there haven't been any LGBTQ attacks, like Orlando. But we are not at utopia yet. London has no queer spaces; we have lost them to property developers serving the international elite. There's not one lesbian bar, and for such a vast liberal metropolis that's ridiculous. We still need to protest. It's only been 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality – partial decriminalisation.

The other reason why Pride has been commercialised is because it's a microcosmic example of the wider economic makeup of Britain. The Pride in London Board is made up of businessmen who have little connection to the queer community.

So you're saying commercialisation is directly countering LGBTQ rights?
Definitely. Most of the institutions that sponsor Pride don't pay taxes [a number of sponsors have paid no corporation tax in the UK], and this directly impacts LGBTQ persons. Queer youths are four times more likely to suffer from a mental illness, and yet PACE – the LGBTQ mental health group – has closed down due to underfunding. So has Rainbow the LGBTQ domestic violence support network. If you look at the Albert Kennedy Report, a quarter of homeless youths are queer, and companies not paying their [corporation] tax has contributed to the decline of these services. [Weapons manufacturers] BAE Systems, who were at Pride in 2016, make money from the deaths of gay people. Pfizer is one of the richest pharmaceutical companies and they're creaming money from the breakdown of the NHS and the AIDS crisis. Even though their actions subject LGBTQ persons to health risks, now they have a Pride logo.

Why do you think so many of these corporations have been allowed to co-opt Pride?
The LGBTQ community have low self-worth due to centuries of compounded spiritual, institutional, legal, religious, biological and educational homophobia. We are easily bought off because we want to be loved. But we must have more dignity.

What would you say to people who see the incorporation of gay culture into the mainstream as a sign of equality?
I get that all the time, like, "Oh, Barclays employees, isn't it fabulous that they can walk Pride with their colleagues." How do I say this articulately... we are being taken for an absolute ride and not the good one. These corporations don't care about us; they want to use us to be like, "Hey, look guys, we're ethical!" – insert brochure with smiley queer man. Yes of course we want everyone in all institutions to be explicitly LGBTQ, but that's not the way towards economic equality.

"If anyone had any knowledge about queer history they'd know that the police haven't been our friends. It's them who imprisoned us, which led to us being killed and lobotomised and the rest."

If you're against corporate sponsorship, how would you fund Pride?
People moan about Pride, like, 'We are in an age of austerity, where is the money going to come from?" but it's a question of political will. The GLA waste how many millions on a fucking garden bridge, and they let corporations off tax free. Or they can fund community events for marginalised people – it's a choice.

What would you say to people who are like, "Pride is about having fun. It doesn't need to be a protest"?
I hear that loads: "You're just a party pooper, you don't know how to have fun," and it's like, I do know how to have fun... if they knew me – whatever. The other response is like, "Check your fucking privilege – are you an LGBTQ migrant? Are you homeless?" Large corporations dodging tax might not affect the "A gays" – white, rich, cis-gendered males – but it does everyone else. In terms of gay rights, none of us are free until we are all free. Pride's promotional video from last year was called "no filter". It's the most vapid thing I've ever seen, and this year the theme is "love is here". It's, like, nice idea, mate, but no it's not. I think you'll find rising homophobia and fascism is here. Its George Orwell double speak, "If we say love is here, then it will be."

What was the worst thing you saw at Pride last year?
For me, it was being stuck between the police, the army and Tesco. It's like hang about – how the fuck did this happen? If anyone had any knowledge about queer history they'd know that the police haven't been our friends. It's them who imprisoned us, which led to us being killed and lobotomised and the rest. It's them who caught us in the toilets of cruising and cottaging grounds. Hang on, Tesco? Did the queer community get liberated by shitty sandwiches?

Did you experience anything positive?
When we managed to get rid of UKIP and BAE Systems I realised that protest works. Dragging the coffin to the front of the march was brilliant. People are mobilising and gradually Pride is returning to its radical past. The hardest thing is challenging your own community, but it's really important for the gay community to resist becoming marketing fodder for banks and supermarkets.

Thanks, Dan.