Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Putting the protest back in Pride

Siobhan McGuirk reports on the fight to reclaim Pride in Manchester and beyond

July 25, 2010
7 min read


Siobhan McGuirkSiobhan McGuirk is a Red Pepper commissioning editor.


  share     tweet  

At last year’s Manchester Pride, Peter Andre, the (straight) beau of gossip-column queen Jordan, was paid handsomely to perform as the main stage’s headline act. Meanwhile, local artists were asked to perform for free.

Poet Vanessa Fay was unimpressed. ‘People who had performed for many years were confined to a gazebo with no PA system, trying to compete with the straight London-based artists on stage,’ she says. ‘It was a real shame, especially for those hoping to find diversity and politics – the whole origins of Mardi Gras.’

Andre’s attention-grabbing attendance sums up how far Manchester Pride has become commercialised and exclusionary, detached from the diversity, vibrancy and radicalism of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.

Its critics say Manchester Pride is the most commercialised such event in the country, hosting its parade as part of a private, ticketed ‘Big Weekend’ event. Increasing numbers in the LGBT community are deeply critical of the ‘corporate friendly’ image they say it promotes at the expense of politics, community and its liberation roots.

Alan Bailey, NUS LGBT Officer, explains: ‘LGBTQ [the Q stands for queer] people don’t have liberation. Despite some legal victories, we must still fight for free love, free gender expression and a radical alternative to an exclusive society.

‘Prides started as protests but now many charge entry, some just to take part in the parades. They “pinkwash” the real issues we still face.’

Commercial takeover

Manchester has hosted LGBT festivals and marches for decades, including an annual event formerly known as Gayfest or Mardi Gras.

In 2003, Manchester Pride Ltd took charge of the event, introducing barriers to close off the village surrounding Canal Street – the heart of Manchester’s gay community – to non-ticket holders. The ticketing was ostensibly to raise money for charity, but Manchester Pride Ltd was not officially granted charity status until 2007, and overlaps between board members and Canal Street Business Association members, bar owners and promoters continue to raise eyebrows.

An investigation by ‘Gay Mafia Watch’ – an LGBT blog exposing commercial exploitation of gay events – found in 2007 that less than 1 per cent of the charity’s income went to LGBT community groups.

Soon after, Phil Burke, chair of the Village Business Association, resigned from the Pride board, stating that the event was ‘run by dictators’ and is ‘just about making money…What should be a community-driven event is now a purely commercial operation. Established operators are shunned and overlooked for non-entity, non-gay organisations that just have bigger purses.’

Parade entries now include brands such as Selfridges, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Premier Inn and WKD drinks, who pay £1,300 for the privilege.

Entry to the parade is for registered organisations and applications may be refused if they ‘do not support the values and ethos of Manchester Pride’. Two years ago, members of the NUS and Queer Youth Network parade entries were informed they were in breach of this regulation for holding placards that read ‘Pride is a protest’ and ‘Stonewall was a riot’. They were told to leave them behind or leave the parade.

And last year, local singer Ste McCabe was asked not to wear a t-shirt reading ‘too poor to be gay’ – the name of his album – because ‘it sent out the wrong message’. He declined to perform as a result.

Reclaiming the scene

But activists are fighting back. A coalition of Manchester groups has come together, under the banner ‘Reclaim the Scene’, to stand up to the sanitised corporate image of the ‘pink pound’ – which is, they feel, creating new prejudices and barriers and sidelining pre-existing LGBT issues.

In response to the perceived paucity of community presence at official events, an alternative pride festival, Get Bent, was held in Manchester in 2006 and 2007. The non-profit group put on free arts events and club nights, aiming to ‘provide an alternative to commercial gay spaces by creating a queer autonomous space that is sex-positive without being sex-centred, doesn’t depend on alcohol to have a good time, and is unafraid to put the politics back into pride’.

In 2008, the NUS and Queer Youth Network marched under the banner Pride is a Protest, inspired by activists in Birmingham who created an overtly political march when the city’s official Pride was cancelled. In Manchester, the first act of the group was to picket the birthday balloon launch of Pride with placards and banners reading ‘Queer fightback!’ and ‘Pride as a protest or pride as a corporate sham?’

The movement evolved into Reclaim the Scene, to reflect the broader aims of the group: to see the local ‘gay scene’ become more community focused, less commercialised and more accessible, all year round. Last year, Reclaim the Scene organised banner drops around the village, had a political entry in Manchester’s Pride parade and held a Community Pride Picnic outside the fenced-off official Manchester Pride area.

The picnic was completely free, with food donated from local allotments, political speakers, children’s entertainment and a diverse range of entertainment from poets to local bands. All donations raised were given to a LGBT safe house in Iraq. ‘Manchester Pride should be free, accessible and community based. We are showing that this is possible,’ says Reclaim the Scene member Emma Kerry.

The ethos of Reclaim the Scene is gaining popularity across the country, with a group of Londoners planning to set up their own group.

Sky Yarlett says: ‘I was inspired by the Reclaim the Scene movement in Manchester and, after talking to a few of my friends, I discovered that we hated the scene in London: the lack of variety, how gays and lesbians were divided, how sexism, racism and transphobia are rife. The [Pride London] focus isn’t on a community project and our scene should be uniting to fight this.’

The shift towards new kinds of queer politics is not limited to city-based campaigns. The trade union Unison passed a motion called ‘Pride is a Protest’, soon followed by the NUS LGBT campaign. Unison was also an official supporter of Reclaim the Scene Manchester. At Pride London this year, students from NUS LGBT marked the anniversary of the Gay Liberation Front march by re-enacting photos of their actions.

Taking note

Manchester Pride organisers are, it appears, taking note: they have now introduced some more diverse and widely publicised events in the lead up to the Big Weekend. Last year, a community float also allowed people not part of an official group to join the parade, and the NUS was allowed an overtly political entry – complete with radical banners.

David Henry of Queer Youth Network broadly welcomes the changes. ‘Some of the things Pride are doing outside the village are really great – positively on the edge of the mainstream and yet still endorsed by them. We applied for their community funding grant and got money for a portable PA, which will go on more radical marches, so I suppose they are also funding radical voices indirectly.’

‘The visibility of radical voices is still restricted, though,’ he adds. ‘Despite the Fringe title of some events this year, it’s all funded and run by Manchester Pride, who still tell some performers their music’s too radical.’

Manchester Pride is slowly changing its attitude, but the overall balance still seems to place commercial over community interests. This year, Reclaim the Scene will be there again: holding another community picnic, open to everyone and starting as the parade ends.

Also taking place will be Manchester Queeruption, an international movement of ‘DIY, non-commercial, non-hierarchal, safe and open space for workshops, political action, parties and sex…’ Planned to coincide with, but not in opposition to, Manchester Pride, Queeruption organisers say: ‘This event is not associated with Manchester Pride, but supports pride and queer spaces in Manchester and hopes to compliment the event by filling a big gap we’ve been missing for quite a few years now.’

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Siobhan McGuirkSiobhan McGuirk is a Red Pepper commissioning editor.


‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain.’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition.

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it


3