“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.

 
 
 
 

Jane Jacobs and Le Corbusier would agree on one thing: we need more social housing

Unite d’Habitation, Marseille. Image: Iantomferry/Wikimedia Commons.

Much has been written in CityMetric and beyond about the urban planning debates of the 1950s and ‘60s, that came to be characterised as a battle between master-planning and preservation. One side of the debate was personified by the father of modernist architecture, Le Corbusier, whilst the counter-argument was advanced by writer and journalist Jane Jacobs.

But when it comes to London’s housing crisis, aren’t there a few things that these two would actually agree on?

Jane Jacobs’ writing about the organic nature of self-organising communities, demonstrated, in her words, by the “intricate sidewalk ballet” of inner city neighbourhoods, should be required reading for anyone interested in how cities function. But today, Jacobs is increasingly invoked in attempts to oppose new developments of any kind. Her role in conceiving Manhattan’s West Village Houses, a low cost rented housing scheme built through New York State’s Mitchell-Lama Program, is unfortunately much less well known. It’s been suggested that if Jacobs were around today, she’d be working with New York’s housing activists. When her seminal work The Death and Life of Great American Cities was written, there were almost 2 million rent-controlled or rent-stabilised apartments in New York City; nowadays, there are fewer than half that number.

Le Corbusier, on the other hand, is too often blamed for drab high-rise blocks. But regardless of how well his followers across Europe interpreted his ideas, Le Corbusier’s vision for cities was about high quality residential blocks that also contained shops and leisure amenities and were surrounded by parkland – the original mixed use development if you like. His most famous building, Marseille’s Unite d’Habitation, consisted of 337 apartments with views of the mountains and the sea together with shops, a restaurant and a nursery school. The building was originally intended to be public housing, but the French government eventually sold off the flats to recoup costs. Alton West Estate in Roehampton and Park Hill in Sheffield are just some of the examples of Le Corbusier’s influence on the design of post-war council housing here in the UK.

Building homes for a serious business in post-war Britain. Under Attlee’s 1945 Labour Government, 700,000 new council homes were completed. In 1952, the largest architectural practice in the World was at London County Council, with 1,577 staff including 350 professional architects and trainees. These were the days of consensus, and very quickly Tory governments were actually competing with Labour governments about who could built the most council homes.

Some of the council homes built post-war have stood the test of time better than others. But what’s not in doubt is that building council homes on such a scale immeasurably changed the lives of so many families in desperate need of a decent, secure and affordable home. And so many of the post-war modernist high-rise blocks so despised by Jacobs quickly took on the organic self-organising traits that she held in such high regard and have become some of the most enduring and closely-knit communities in London.

Fast forward to 2019 and Right To Buy continues to decimate council housing stock, but perversely home ownership seems more out of reach than ever for so many. An entire generation is being forced to embrace long term private ting in a country that has some weakest protections for private tenants in Europe. Meanwhile, government spending on building new homes fell from £11.4bn in 2009 to just £5.3bn in 2015 – from 0.7 per cent to 0.2 per cent of GDP – and since then, the housing minister’s desk has been occupied by no fewer than six people.


So what would a comprehensive drive for new council and social housing on the scale of the 1945 government’s efforts look like in 2019?

Lubetkin, the architect responsible for Islington’s Spa Green Estate and Bevin Court, summed up the spirit of post-war council home building with his maxim that “nothing is too good for ordinary people”. It’s a vision that we’re trying to recreate through our own council home building programme in Islington.

One of the best opportunities for small council home building schemes is to expand upon existing communities. The vast majority of Islington’s new council housing takes the form of infill, construction on existing estates; in unloved spaces, in old garages, and in old undercrofts. These projects often involve landscaping and new amenities to enhance rather than reinvent local communities. We have built community centres and even rebuilt a library as part of council housing schemes. One Tenants’ and Residents’ Association had an idea for a new specialist over 55s block for the older residents of the estate who wanted to stay in their community.

But there’s a place for large-scale place making as well. When the Ministry of Justice closed Holloway Prison and announced that the site would be sold, Islington Council published a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) on the site. We had one aim – to send a clear signal to the market that anyone who was looking at buying the site needed to be aware of their planning obligations. Most importantly, any development on the site needed to include at least 50 per cent genuinely affordable homes. The speculation around the site came to an end on 8 March this year when Peabody Housing Association announced that it had bought it. It has committed to going well above and beyond our planning requirements, by making 600 out of a total 1000 homes genuinely affordable homes, including 420 homes for social rent. We need to see more detail on what they are proposing but this is potentially brilliant for the borough. A local grassroots group, Community Plan for Holloway, have been instrumental in ensuring that the community’s voice is heard since the site was sold.

To recreate the scale of the massive post-war council home building programmes would require a Jane Jacobs inspired level of community activism combined with the architectural idealism of Le Corbusier. But it would also need the political will from central government to help local authorities get council housing built. And that, sadly, feels as far away as ever.

Diarmaid Ward is a Labour councillor and the executive member for housing & development at the London Borough of Islington.