“It's time we re-embraced Pride as a more overtly political event”: the world's LGBT communities unite and celebrate

Oxford Street, Pride London, 2006. Image: Getty.

On Saturday 12 June, 49 people died in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, in the deadliest attack the US gay community has ever seen. Two days later, Pride in London’s launch event took on a tone that was both sombre and defiant, as Soho was bedecked in rainbow flags sending a message of solidarity abroad. The sight of the Admiral Duncan pub, the site of a homophobic bombing back in 1999, was especially poignant.

That this shooting came in June seemed especially cruel. Pride events often take place that month, to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of 1969, when the queer patrons of the Stonewall Inn, NYC rebelled against arrest and showed the straight world they would no long live in the shadows.

In recent years, though, Pride events have become social, rather than overtly political, affairs. “I think it's easy to forget how important Pride events are, especially in places like the UK where the legal battles are largely won,” says long-time LGBT commentator Paul Burston. But “the battle for hearts and minds is far from over, as shown by the terrible loss of life in Orlando. Pride is political by its very nature, but I think it's time we re-embraced the roots of Pride as a more overtly political event.”

These events can also have a deeply personal impact. “I first marched at Pride when I was 16, back in 1986,” says Luke Howard of queer DJ collective Horse Meat Disco. “As we arrived in Kennington Park it began to rain and everyone piled into the disco tent. They played ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ and I felt so alive, so free and so happy.

“It felt like an end to the suffering of being a frightened teenager in the closet. The streets can be quite a frightening place for LGBT people, but at Pride it's like we reclaim them to celebrate our lives.”

Sofia Pride, 2015. Image: Getty.

The most visible aspect of Pride is the colourful parades, featuring dancers, performers and various LGBTQI groups. Pride in London shuts down Regent Street in central London every 25 June, and proceeds across Piccadilly Circus, the only parade granted such a privilege. This year, despite the rain, over a million people took part in the event, its organisers claim – including 40,000 in the parade alone.

But Pride is a worldwide affair. Sao Paulo’s Gay Pride hosts well over a million people every May, making it the largest Pride in the world, while Madrid boasts the largest Pride in Europe. Pride Toronto also scores highly in terms of numbers. (No wonder it’s Justin Trudeau’s favourite. )

But as well as the parades and the inevitable after-parties, there’s still a serious side to Pride. Many include a vigil or memorial event to remember those who have died along the way to equality. In June, Dublin Pride ended on a Ceremony Of Remembrance by Merrion Square’s Oscar Wilde statue – a reminder of the price people paid for homosexuality in the past. Manchester’s  Big Weekend at the end of August concludes with a candlelight vigil; usually dedicated to HIV victims, this year should be especially sombre, after events in Orlando. 

But while Pride remains internationally relevant, there are those within the LGBTQI community that want to see it improve, both in focus and execution.

Rio Pride, 2013. Image: Getty.

Kevin Kauer, founder of Nark Magazine and the Bottom Forty DJ collective, is a mainstay of Seattle’s Capitol Hill queer club scene, and back in 2010 took on the local authorities with his memorably-named Dickslap party. Dickslap successfully challenged homophobic licensing legislation that “may not allow, permit, or encourage any person… to touch, caress, or fondle the breast, buttocks, anus or genitals of another person”, and shamed the local liquor board into a retreat.

Kauer believes Pride – and other queer events – should be open to respectful straight people too. “The more we segregate and run away from the ‘straight’ community, the more we create and perpetuate the idea that homophobia has a purpose,” he says. “The gaps between our communities are where phobias are created.”

The gaps that concern him include those within the LGBTQI community itself – for example, the gaps between gay people and trans people. “Without educating one another that empty space of the unknown still creates opportunities for judgement and phobia.”

LA Pride, 2014. Image: Getty.

Others think Pride need to be more radical. Rhys Alden and Tameera Mohamed of Rad Pride Halifax, underway until Tuesday, see racism as a key factor not properly addressed by mainstream Pride.  “Contemporary Pride doesn't support racialised and trans bodies and it doesn't support queers without the money to buy into it,” they explain. “Also it advocates for members of the LGBT community to join the army (to kill people of colour) and the police (to incarcerate people of colour). The vast majority of violence isn't perpetrated against white cis gay men: it happens to queer and trans people of colour.”

The Rad Pride organisers’ points take on greater resonance after Orlando. Saturday night was Latin Night at LGBT nightclub Pulse, and Omar Mateen’s victims were overwhelmingly HispanicThe FBI’s own figures show that LGBTQI people are the most likely minorities to be victims of hate crime. The reaction to Black Lives Matter’s peaceful disruption of Toronto Pride bought these intersectional issues very much to the fore, as did the recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Phillando Castille.


Despite these flaws, though, it’s clear that Pride plays a valuable role in the gay communities in cities around the world. Luke Howard was at Justin Trudeau’s beloved Toronto Pride.

“There were First Nation Canadians, plus those of Middle Eastern, Caribbean, South American, European, Asian and African descent, all represented,” he says. “Loads of straight people brought their kids to watch the parade, and I saw Muslim families that had tied rainbow flags to their kids' buggies.”

In a divided world, Pride has an enduring power to unite people.

 
 
 
 

Ottawa-Gatineau, the national capital which language differences nearly split into two countries

The Canadian parliament, Ottawa.

There are many single urban areas with multiple, competing local identities: from the rivalry of Newcastle and Sunderland in Tyne & Wear, to the Wolverhampton residents who resolutely deny that they are part of Birmingham, despite being in the same urban conurbation and sharing a mayor.

However, no division is quite as stark as that of the Ottawa-Gatineau metropolitan area in Canada. Often referred to as the National Capital Region, Ottawa and Gatineau lie directly opposite each other on either side of the Ottawa River, a hundred miles from Montreal, the nearest other significant population centre. Because the conurbation straddles a provincial boundary, the two cities literally speak a different language, with Ottawa in predominantly Anglophone Ontario and Gatineau in Francophone Quebec.

This is reflected in their populations. According to the 2011 census, French was the mother tongue of 77 per cent of those in Gatineau, a percentage maintained by policies intended to keep French as Quebec’s dominant language. Similarly, although Ottawa provides some bilingual services, 68 per cent of its residents are predominantly Anglophone; Franco-Ontarians frequently complain that the city is not officially bilingual.

Although there are similar divided cities, such as the Cypriot capital of Nicosia, Ottawa-Gatineau is unique in that the city was not divided by a war or major political event: its two halves have been part of the same political territory since the British defeated the French in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, before either of the cities were even established. Indeed, the oldest part of Gatineau is actually an Anglophone settlement with the name of Hull (it was merged into the Gatineau municipality in 2002).


Today, the two cities facing each other across the Ottawa river have separate services, and elect difference mayors to run them: OC Transpo serves Ottawa, the Société de Transport de l’Outaouais (STO) serves  Gatineau, and few tickets are transferrable between the two systems.

OC Transpo is currently constructing a light rail system to many parts of Ottawa; but proposals to expand the route into Gatineau, or to merge the two transport systems have been fraught with obstacles. The City of Ottawa owns a disused railway bridge, connecting the two cities, but arguments about funding and political differences have so far prevented it from being used as part of the light rail extension project.

The divisions between Ottawa and Gatineau are made all the more unusual by the fact that Ottawa is the federal capital of Canada – a country where bilingualism is entrenched in the Charter of Rights & Freedom as a bedrock principle of the Canadian constitution. As a result, while all proceedings within the Canadian legislature are bilingual, this principle of bilingualism is not reflected on the streets surrounding the building.

The inevitable map. Image: Google.

These linguistic, as well as political, differences have been a long-running theme in Canadian politics. Quebec held independence referendums in both 1980 and 1995; in the latter, the separatists were defeated by a margin of less than 0.6 per cent. Quebecois independence would be made all the more humiliating for Canada by the fact it would be losing the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, while its parliament was forced to look out across the river at its new neighbours.

While Quebec as a whole only narrowly rejected independence in 1995, 72 per cent of Gatineau residents voted against the separatist proposal. The presence of many federal employees living in the city, who commute to Ottawa, meant that the city was rather unenthusiastic about the prospect of independence.

So, with Quebec nationalism currently at a low ebb, Gatineau seems set to remain a part of Canada – albeit while retaining its independent from the other half of its conurbation, across the river. While recent challenges such as flooding may have been better tackled by a unitary authority, the National Capital Region seems set to remain a tale of two cities.

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