“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.

 
 
 
 

To build its emerging “megaregions”, the USA should turn to trains

Under construction: high speed rail in California. Image: Getty.

An extract from “Designing the Megaregion: Meeting Urban Challenges at a New Scale”, out now from Island Press.

A regional transportation system does not become balanced until all its parts are operating effectively. Highways, arterial streets, and local streets are essential, and every megaregion has them, although there is often a big backlog of needed repairs, especially for bridges. Airports for long-distance travel are also recognized as essential, and there are major airports in all the evolving megaregions. Both highways and airports are overloaded at peak periods in the megaregions because of gaps in the rest of the transportation system. Predictions for 2040, when the megaregions will be far more developed than they are today, show that there will be much worse traffic congestion and more airport delays.

What is needed to create a better balance? Passenger rail service that is fast enough to be competitive with driving and with some short airplane trips, commuter rail to major employment centers to take some travelers off highways, and improved local transit systems, especially those that make use of exclusive transit rights-of-way, again to reduce the number of cars on highways and arterial roads. Bicycle paths, sidewalks, and pedestrian paths are also important for reducing car trips in neighborhoods and business centers.

Implementing “fast enough” passenger rail

Long-distance Amtrak trains and commuter rail on conventional, unelectrified tracks are powered by diesel locomotives that can attain a maximum permitted speed of 79 miles per hour, which works out to average operating speeds of 30 to 50 miles per hour. At these speeds, trains are not competitive with driving or even short airline flights.

Trains that can attain 110 miles per hour and can operate at average speeds of 70 miles per hour are fast enough to help balance transportation in megaregions. A trip that takes two to three hours by rail can be competitive with a one-hour flight because of the need to allow an hour and a half or more to get to the boarding area through security, plus the time needed to pick up checked baggage. A two-to-three-hour train trip can be competitive with driving when the distance between destinations is more than two hundred miles – particularly for business travelers who want to sit and work on the train. Of course, the trains also have to be frequent enough, and the traveler’s destination needs to be easily reachable from a train station.

An important factor in reaching higher railway speeds is the recent federal law requiring all trains to have a positive train control safety system, where automated devices manage train separation to avoid collisions, as well as to prevent excessive speeds and deal with track repairs and other temporary situations. What are called high-speed trains in the United States, averaging 70 miles per hour, need gate controls at grade crossings, upgraded tracks, and trains with tilt technology – as on the Acela trains – to permit faster speeds around curves. The Virgin Trains in Florida have diesel-electric locomotives with an electrical generator on board that drives the train but is powered by a diesel engine. 

The faster the train needs to operate, the larger, and heavier, these diesel-electric locomotives have to be, setting an effective speed limit on this technology. The faster speeds possible on the portion of Amtrak’s Acela service north of New Haven, Connecticut, came after the entire line was electrified, as engines that get their power from lines along the track can be smaller and much lighter, and thus go faster. Catenary or third-rail electric trains, like Amtrak’s Acela, can attain speeds of 150 miles per hour, but only a few portions of the tracks now permit this, and average operating speeds are much lower.

Possible alternatives to fast enough trains

True electric high-speed rail can attain maximum operating speeds of 150 to 220 miles per hour, with average operating speeds from 120 to 200 miles per hour. These trains need their own grade-separated track structure, which means new alignments, which are expensive to build. In some places the property-acquisition problem may make a new alignment impossible, unless tunnels are used. True high speeds may be attained by the proposed Texas Central train from Dallas to Houston, and on some portions of the California High-Speed Rail line, should it ever be completed. All of the California line is to be electrified, but some sections will be conventional tracks so that average operating speeds will be lower.


Maglev technology is sometimes mentioned as the ultimate solution to attaining high-speed rail travel. A maglev train travels just above a guideway using magnetic levitation and is propelled by electromagnetic energy. There is an operating maglev train connecting the center of Shanghai to its Pudong International Airport. It can reach a top speed of 267 miles per hour, although its average speed is much lower, as the distance is short and most of the trip is spent getting up to speed or decelerating. The Chinese government has not, so far, used this technology in any other application while building a national system of long-distance, high-speed electric trains. However, there has been a recent announcement of a proposed Chinese maglev train that can attain speeds of 375 miles per hour.

The Hyperloop is a proposed technology that would, in theory, permit passenger trains to travel through large tubes from which all air has been evacuated, and would be even faster than today’s highest-speed trains. Elon Musk has formed a company to develop this virtually frictionless mode of travel, which would have speeds to make it competitive with medium- and even long-distance airplane travel. However, the Hyperloop technology is not yet ready to be applied to real travel situations, and the infrastructure to support it, whether an elevated system or a tunnel, will have all the problems of building conventional high-speed rail on separate guideways, and will also be even more expensive, as a tube has to be constructed as well as the train.

Megaregions need fast enough trains now

Even if new technology someday creates long-distance passenger trains with travel times competitive with airplanes, passenger traffic will still benefit from upgrading rail service to fast-enough trains for many of the trips within a megaregion, now and in the future. States already have the responsibility of financing passenger trains in megaregion rail corridors. Section 209 of the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 requires states to pay 85 percent of operating costs for all Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles (the legislation exempts the Northeast Corridor) as well as capital maintenance costs of the Amtrak equipment they use, plus support costs for such programs as safety and marketing. 

California’s Caltrans and Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, Connecticut, Indiana, Illinois, Maine’s Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin all have agreements with Amtrak to operate their state corridor services. Amtrak has agreements with the freight railroads that own the tracks, and by law, its operations have priority over freight trains.

At present it appears that upgrading these corridor services to fast-enough trains will also be primarily the responsibility of the states, although they may be able to receive federal grants and loans. The track improvements being financed by the State of Michigan are an example of the way a state can take control over rail service. These tracks will eventually be part of 110-mile-per-hour service between Chicago and Detroit, with commitments from not just Michigan but also Illinois and Indiana. Fast-enough service between Chicago and Detroit could become a major organizer in an evolving megaregion, with stops at key cities along the way, including Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, and Ann Arbor. 

Cooperation among states for faster train service requires formal agreements, in this case, the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact. The participants are Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. There is also an advocacy organization to support the objectives of the compact, the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission.

States could, in future, reach operating agreements with a private company such as Virgin Trains USA, but the private company would have to negotiate its own agreement with the freight railroads, and also negotiate its own dispatching priorities. Virgin Trains says in its prospectus that it can finance track improvements itself. If the Virgin Trains service in Florida proves to be profitable, it could lead to other private investments in fast-enough trains.

Jonathan Barnett is an emeritus Professor of Practice in City and Regional Planning, and former director of the Urban Design Program, at the University of Pennsylvania. 

This is an extract from “Designing the Megaregion: Meeting Urban Challenges at a New Scale”, published now by Island Press. You can find out more here.