This past weekend I found myself popping down to Soho in London’s West End for London Pride 2012, this year’s much hyped World Pride. Now, to put this into context this was my fourth ever appearance at a pride event having been to the previous year’s London Pride, once to a Sydney Pride and another to a small but meaningful Shanghai Pride. I’m comfortable in my sexuality and really don’t think it’s anybody's business other then my own. As a result, I don’t discuss my private life at work, but I’m far from being in the closet. I believe there is more to life then the ‘gay scene,’ but I don’t turn my nose up at it and I’m more then happy to meet up with friends and enjoy a drink on the scene. Politically I consider myself a moderate, a supporter of LGBT rights both philosophically and financially, but a fiscal conservative with pragmatic and realist views on social and foreign policy. I voted conservative in the last two general elections. Some may say I might be too uptight for an event like gay pride, but shouldn’t gay pride be for everyone?
Since the morning of pride I had been wrestling with the idea on whether or not to show my face in Soho and the gloomy weather wasn’t inspiring me much either. However after two hours of GMAT revision I decided I deserved a break and made my way down to the West End to meet up with some friends. Now I did my fair share of clubbing back in my student days, but since then I am rarely out past midnight on a weekend, and in the last year I’ve been clubbing only once. My motivations for attending were to experience a festival atmosphere, see the parade and feel part of a community.
The dreadful weather aside, what I encountered was a sad turnout and poorly managed event that has raised the question within me, Has gay pride lost its meaning? Just eight days prior to the big day, London Council had informed pride organisers that that the permits for the parade had been declined. Floats and vehicles were no longer permitted and the parade was downgraded to simply a march of about 15,000 participants, much lower then the expected 40,000. Official celebrations in Soho and Golden Square were canceled and the main celebration venue at Trafalgar Square had its program severely reduced and was instructed to end at 6pm sharp or for face fines. Furthermore, police, who were out in force on the day, had warned local businesses and bars in the area that they risk losing their alcohol license if they allowed patrons to drink outside on the street as their street party requests had been declined. To top it all off key politicians, including London Mayor Boris Johnson declined to participate in the march for the second year in a row.
Blame has been leveled at the pride organizing committee, who have in turn blamed the lack of core sponsorship for this year’s failures. The extent of which is only now becoming evident as pride contractors are claiming £65,000 worth of unpaid accounts, a claim that the organising committee denies. But is this really all down to poor event planning? Or are there larger factors at play here?
With a Pimm’s cup in hand I strolled the overcrowded streets of Soho with my friends, who like me and everybody else seemed to disregard the ‘no drinking on the streets’ rule. Despite the weather, dressed in a button shirt, sweater and jeans I felt very over-dressed amongst freezing gogo boys and drag queens (who must have been freezing). People were in good spirits though, but I didn’t seem to find any sense of community whatsoever, aside from the occasional “Some People Are Gay, Get Over It” stickers plastered onto people’s clothing, the entire event seemed devoid of any political message about the tolerance of homosexuality. Which is the point of gay pride, right?
The whole experience just felt like a regular Saturday night out on the town, with people drinking, cruising and more drinking. Only this time it was in broad daylight. Also I couldn’t ignore the obvious blatant use of drugs. Everybody seemed to be either sucking on a balloon to get high off nitres, (since when did this become a thing?) or having a hit of poppers. While both are completely legal, what isn’t legal were all the number of people take cheeky key snorts of powder (Tina, K, cocaine, who knows) or blatantly smoking a joint out in public. To top it all off you had your periodic bouts of vomiting brought on by excessive alcohol consumption, a few verbal (verging onto physical) fights, lovers’ quarrels and tears.
Like any other night out, a few hours and a few drinks later it was time for me to call it a night, or more likely call it an early evening. Heading off to a club was not something I was really up for. On the tube ride home I pondered, had I enjoyed myself? Yes. Had I felt proud about being gay? Not really. Had I been a part of a community helping to fight intolerance? Doubt it. Had I made a political stand for gay rights? Definitely not.
As I’ve opened this article with the question, the whole experience has raised questions as to weather the institution of gay pride now has any meaning other then an excuse to get drunk out in public during the day? What do you all think? Does gay pride still serve a purpose? Were the failures of this year’s World Pride due purely because of poor management or are their larger concerns at play? I don’t have all the answers, but I find myself questioning whether I’ll bother attending or not next year. Either way, I have a whole year to decide.