Pride is a Protest, Not a Music Festival

Image from a Pride protest, containing a crowd of people dressed in rainbow colours carrying rainbow placards

I took a local approach to Pride 2018. I couldn’t afford tickets to some of the larger Prides in bigger cities, nor the train fares and hotel stays that I’d need alongside them. Instead, I hopped on my usual bus and headed into town for my local Pride event. I met some amazing new people, picked up countless leaflets from LGBTQ+ organisations, and sang along to ‘Dancing Queen’ with a fabulous local drag queen who stood. arms aloft. on the small stage erected in the middle of the narrow street.

The day was much smaller (though equally glittery) than some of the larger Prides I’ve attended over the years, but it was still an exhilarating and affirming experience that captured the spirit of the community I so proudly belong to. And it cost me nothing to attend.

“Many members of the LGBTQ+ community fear that Pride events are no longer a political protest, safe space or celebration for the community.”

The 2019 Pride season marks fifty years since the Stonewall riots – a series of spontaneous demonstrations outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City by members of the LGBTQ+ community. These demonstrations, carried out by the most marginalised members of the community, including drag queens, transgender people, effeminate young men, butch lesbians, sex workers, homeless youth and LGBTQ+ people of colour, are considered to be both the turning point for LGBTQ+ liberation and the birth of Pride.

Pride is a protest — it started as such, and it has continued as such. But in recent years, many members of the LGBTQ+ community fear that Pride events up and down the country have turned into (often expensive) music festivals. To many, Pride is no longer a political protest, safe space, or celebration for the community.

Nowhere is this more apparent than Manchester Pride, who evoked backlash from the community early this year when they announced not only that a ticket to the full event would set you back £70, but also that global superstar, Ariana Grande, who is not part of the LGBTQ+ community, has been billed as the headliner for what chief executive Mark Fletcher described as a “festival”. It begs the question – is this event still about celebrating the queer community?

Ariana Grande singing on stage in front of a large crowd

Having music acts at Pride is fun – I had an incredible glitter-coated bop to Vengaboys at Birmingham Pride back in 2016. But music is not the real reason queer people attend Pride. We go to Pride seeking community, acceptance, and the chance to shout out against the homophobia, transphobia and erasure that still occurs throughout mainstream culture. Many have criticised those for complaining about the price hike by citing bigger acts and larger venues – which is fair, until you consider that a large part of the LGBTQ+ community didn’t ask for an A-list headliner at Pride in the first place.

Skyrocketing ticket prices as a result of booking bigger and more expensive acts to perform at Pride events immediately alienates the poorest and most marginalised members of the community. It should not be lost on ANYONE that these are the people we owe for starting the movement — the people who threw the first bricks at outside the Stonewall Inn in 1969. While we still have a long way to go, the LGBTQ+ community wouldn’t be where it is today without the actions of those who are now the first to be pushed out of expensive, festival-style Pride events.

Bringing in hugely popular (and non-queer) acts will also inevitably attract people from outside of the LGBTQ+ community — who many are unsure should be at Pride in the first place. While we can acknowledge that the movement would get nowhere without the support and actions of allies, there comes a point where the queer community is no longer being centered in events that are supposed to be explicitly for them. If you’re an allocishet person attending Pride on the invite of your queer friends, and you’re there to support the community and add your straight/cis-privilege voice to those calling for change – fantastic, come on in. If you’re there for an Ariana Grande concert and little else… that’s a problem.

 


By creating an event that attracts a wider (i.e. allocishet) audience, LGBTQ+ people may feel that Pride is no longer a safe space for them. For many, Pride is a time to escape from a hetero and cis-normative society that often judges, belittles, erases, and outright attacks them. If Pride events continue to evolve in this way, vulnerable LGBTQ+ people will lose one of the few places where they can feel safe, valued, and accepted.

Ariana has responded to the criticism of her headlining Manchester Pride in a direct reply to someone on Twitter, saying that she has nothing to do with ticket prices, and that she wants to celebrate and support the community. This somewhat misses the point. I doubt many people seriously thought Ariana decided the ticket prices herself, but it’s undeniable that she could significantly influence organisers by having an open discussion about how problematic a £70 price tag on a Pride event is. As for supporting the community, there are those who might be sceptical of this statement given the fact that she refuses to accept any responsibility or take action regarding the criticisms of her headlining.

“If you can afford, and feel safe at, what is essentially Rainbow Glastonbury, great. But remember that not all members of our community are as lucky.”

While there are still Pride events across the country that are free to attend, it can be disheartening for queer people to see their local event turned into an inaccessible music festival. Especially if they do not have the resources available to take themselves to more accessible events.

Festival-style Prides might have their place in the community, but they’ll only ever be for the members of the community who already feel mostly safe in mainstream society — namely, white, cis, middle class gay men. If you can afford, and feel safe at, what is essentially Rainbow Glastonbury, great. But remember that not all members of our community are as lucky, and by turning key Pride events into these festivals heavily featuring and attracting non-queer people, they cast aside those who already suffer from marginalisation on a daily basis.

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