The Pride parade in London is happening tomorrow. There have been storms of controversy around whether or not UKIP should be allowed to send their LGBT contingent along to participate. This, for me, has exposed the rather difficult life that Pride parades now have in countries like Britain: with close to full legal equality now that marriage has passed, and widespread social acceptance, there is the feeling that Pride is kind of a spent force now.
Don’t get me wrong: I think Pride is still important. Even if the campaign for LGBT legal equality in Britain is now (mostly) complete, the campaign for social equality and respect still needs to carry on: walking the streets hand-in-hand with one’s partner is still a calculated risk for gay people compared to an utterly ordinary matter for straight folk.
More than that, I still think that even in modern day Britain, Pride is still important because there are still a lot of people who struggle with the first step: being able to learn to love themselves as gay, lesbian, bi or trans people. The first battle is personal: to look at yourself in the mirror and love your gayness or bi-ness or lesbian-ness or transness (or whatever particular queerness you identify with). That’s hard, and Pride exists to show in a very visible way that there are plenty of other people who have learned to accept and love themselves. Pride is an affirmation that our lives are possible and demonstrate a vision of a future where people everywhere can love without fear or discrimination or bigotry.
No, the problem with Pride these days is a small one: participating in it requires you to join a bloody group. Go to a Pride parade in Britain and you have everything—the gay water polo players, the lesbian lawyers, the bisexual bankers, the asexual furry otherkin (thanks Tumblr), the leather daddies, the bears, the gaymers, the drag queens, the dykes on bikes. Everything, that is, except the non-joiners. The people who are a bit too busy with work, relationships, friends and everything else to spend much time joining in with the gay version of the PTA. You ain’t part of a group, so we’re not interested.
Perhaps we ought to have a Pride parade group for all the LGBT folk who can’t be bothered with groups and joining things. Grumpy sods whose idea of fun doesn’t involve committee meetings, taking minutes, administering Facebook groups, petty non-profit politicking or any of that tosh, but who still happen to fall under the banner of L, G, B, T, Q or whatever new letters have been added since I last checked. One thing that irks me most about this is that the people who aren’t joiners of LGBT groups often are probably the people who are best integrated into straight society—who have a healthy mixture of straight and LGBT friends, who don’t demand that every event or thing they go to be a gay event or a gay group.
Worse though is the demand that everyone be part of some sub-group excludes the people who actually need some kind of broader LGBT community: the closeted and the curious. If you are a scared 18-year-old who isn’t sure if they are straight, gay, bi or whatever and you turn up at Pride and the only way you can take part is by already being part of the gay volleyball team or the bisexual bankers or a representative from a big corporation,1 that’s pretty alienating. If you live out in the middle of nowhere where you literally are the “only gay in the village”, all the gay sports teams and choirs and business networking groups don’t mean a damn thing.
This isn’t to deny that these groups have value: we need more support groups, interest groups and so on. I’ve read my Robert Putnam: more community groups means more social capital, more support for people, more social discussion, more friendliness—all these things make people happier, more able to cope with life, all good stuff. There’s great value in having all those groups there for the people they support. But we shouldn’t assume that everyone is a “joiner” or that the LGBT community is simply the sum of all the groups who march in Pride parades, because then you discount the individuals. Most of the LGBT people I know aren’t involved in pretty much any groups that march in Pride parades. As Oscar Wilde (who probably would be too busy to join the gay volleyball league) said: “the problem with socialism is that it takes up too many evenings”. Most people have other things to do, other communities they are involved in. You shouldn’t need to give up all your evenings and live entirely in “gay community land” to feel pride.
And, yes, this year’s Pride in London event is brought to you in part by LIBOR rate manipulators Barclays and Citibank, whose US mortgage division had to pay $158 million in fines for misleading regulators on the viability of home loans. Completely fucking up the world’s economy is fine though because they like the gays. ↩