“Not Gay as in happy but Queer as in Fuck You.” – Anon
Pride was founded on a brick or a shot or kick and the colours of the rainbow thereafter. For many LGBT+ people, a medium sized rectangular cloth, 90 by 150, dyed with the vanishing afternoon, means above all one thing: Pride. Since its christening at Stonewall the rainbow has become emblematic of the oppressed, the silenced, and the unspoken. Yet, just like the nations whose dyed cloth we see stuck in the dirt and waved between the charred days, these totems of promise can be broken. They can crumble.
According to Manchester Pride’s statement of purpose, courtesy of the Charity Commission, the organisation was established to:
“Promote equality and diversity for the public benefit and in particular the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.”
These are the words that bind Mark Fletcher CEO, Stephen Bowen, Max Emmerson, Rajesh Joshi, Robert James Hammond Malcomson, Victoria Empson, Stephen Crocker, and Michael Christopher Lawlor to their responsibilities and commitments to the LGBT+ community of the whole of the United Kingdom. For many, however, the decision to “focus on recovering” from the Covid-19 pandemic at the expense of supporting the world’s oldest free charity service, distributing roughly thirty-one million safe sex packs since 1994, is a betrayal of its core mission statements. Most egregious, however, is Fletcher receiving a pay rise of £20,000 whilst cutting charitable donations to both the LGBT+ foundation and George House Trust from 6% 3% of its annual income, citing the trust helps both straight as well as LGBT people living with HIV and AIDS. In the opposite direction, a total of £586,000 was spent on artist’s fees for those performing at the event, doubling the amount spent in 2018. In place of this, independent businesses located in the heart of Manchester’s have taken it upon themselves to fill in the gaps, aiming to raise £100,000 by next year to support both the safe sex program as well as charities left behind.
Under Fletcher income generated from “other trading activities” more than doubled to £3, 935, 054 between 2015 and 2019; the result of aggressive merchandising, diluting the symbols of Manchester Pride. Here in lies the primary reason why, according to one twitter user, it was up to “the real community” to reclaim Pride back from its current state of hollow commercialisation and re-establish it the home for anti-establishment and non-conformists.
Whilst the feeling behind many of these protests is commendable, their success is a mixed bag. Reports vary, but approximately each of the two major protests were attended by approximately one thousand people, whereas 20,000 people in total attended the events of the day, despite the increase of entry fees. This was to be expected, of course. Virtually every online publication outside of Pink News ignored the smoke of the tiny revolution. There were many reasons, but chief among them in my mind, somewhat controversially perhaps, was the lack of a true willingness to commit to a radical, liberationist idea of Pride.
The protest parade was built on a platform of supporting trans rights, banning conversion therapy and improving LGBT+ education. For pride to be reclaimed the response and action needed must be in and of itself radical. It requires a complex rethinking of the relationship between the individual and to Pride as it currently exists – a move away from Pride as a structure, a commercial charity, towards supporting smaller, independent Queer businesses, artists, and charities. This means throwing down the corporate merchandise and rainbow coloured pin badges in favour of change in trajectory. Maybe it is time to be radicals.