Weeknotes #7

London, Weeknotes

Long ones this week. Weekramble.

On Pride in London

Pride march days are ones in which I feel utterly able to be myself. I can hold my partner’s hand in public, dance around, and feel safe. Waves of endorphins sweep over me.

These feelings last! They spur me on to do a lot of the activism I do (at work and in my spare time). I’ve chased these feelings at prides in other cities including Reykjavik, Taipei, Mumbai and Sydney, each of which feels wildly different. I know pride marches aren’t for everybody (loud, crowded, asthma-triggering, exhausting things) but I love them.

I’ve attended the Pride in London parade for many of the years I’ve lived in this city. It’s a huge event of 30,000 participants and over 1m visitors, run almost entirely by volunteers and with a sizeable impact. But it’s come in for a lot of criticism in recent times, some of which is fair.

In 2012 the previous organisers were pilloried for its financial collapse. Although it’s difficult to analyse the financial affairs of Pride London and Pride in London productions (the companies behind the previous organisers), the most recent filed accounts by the new company behind Pride (London Community LGBT Pride CIC) suggest they are running a tight ship financially – managing income and costs to achieve 1-2% profit in both 2016 and 2017 (accounts here).

In 2018, the march was disrupted by anti-trans protesters, and Stonewall UK declined to march citing a lack of diversity – something the Pride in London organisers have taken on board and pledged to address in 2019 as a strategic priority (see impact report, p5) – we shall see. Stonewall are back in the fold this year, in time to mark the 50th anniversary of the riots.

This year, I’ve noticed three themes of criticism emerging already: size, cost, and what I’ll call ‘superficiality’. Obviously the three are interrelated but I’m separating them here to reflect on.

On size:

In its impact report from 2018, Pride states that it has prioritised increasing the number of groups represented, over increasing the number of places. In my experience as a member of the Pink Singers, this has resulted in the number of allocated wristbands being significantly less than the number that would like to participate. This seems to have happened to most groups. Whilst this is understandable, doing this without prior warning causes logistical issues but in some cases actual distress for those involved. Being denied the endorphin rush I waxed somewhat lyrically about in the first paragraph is particularly difficult for LGBT+ people who are more likely to suffer from poor mental health.

On cost:

Some groups have decided not to participate (e.g. Push The Button) complaining that fees for small businesses to march are prohibitive (in Manchester, it’s fees for attendees that raise eyebrows).

I think it’s fair that all groups pay to be part of the parade – even the non-profits. Part of feeling safe is not worrying about traffic running you down (Mumbai Pride was an interesting experience in this regard), and ensuring the event is appropriately secure and well run. Every group ought to make a some (however small) contribution to recognise that, and even charitable organisations can plan their activities such that they can cover these small costs.

And I agree that the robin hood principle should apply and the fee structure for marching groups at Pride in London could be reviewed such that marching fees explicitly place more of the financial burden of running the Pride event on larger companies’ shoulders. However, a huge £650,000 of Pride in London’s ~£1m income already comes from corporate sponsorship. So it could be argued that Pride are already making corporates subsidise community groups and small businesses (indeed, many think this has already been taken too far).

I also think the distinction between charitable organisations and small business that Pride currently has is fair and should be respected. Charities and community groups are meant to be non-profit. Charities have objects and publish income statements and impact statements as part of their annual return. They have to qualify and quantify the impact of the community work they do. Companies, on the other hand, have no such obligations to carry out community work (although many do for CSR reasons) and it is well within the gift of most organisations to figure out and plan for how to make £500 for this kind of event happen, especially ones that generate a profit to their shareholders.

On superficiality:

Harry Gay from the wonderful LGBTIQ Outside project highlighted that Pride in London had asked the group to make sure their bus of homeless pride participants was ‘visibly nice‘. To my mind, this is about as far away from the roots of the pride movement as you can get. You don’t have to be decked out to the nines to be proud, and Pride shouldn’t be enforcing this kind of behaviour.

How Pride can make change happen

Perhaps it is the failed financial legacy of the previous organisers, or perhaps the organisational culture, or just the sheer operational complexity of planning an event that quite literally shuts down the centre of a major city, that prevents Pride rapidly innovating to address the cost & size issues – e.g. moving the parade to a new route or increasing the length of time to grow numbers; changing the fee structure for participating groups, etc. Although Pride in London is about much more than parade day, I can see how challenging it must be to address these parade issues when this happens only annually.

But the idea that Pride should be all glitter and rainbows is dumb and exclusionary. It’s a protest, a visible reminder of the scale, breadth and diversity of a huge community.

One thing is for sure: all of these half-formed reflections make me want to better understand and get involved to help Pride in London figure out a way through them.

On two-way communication:

I hit my tolerance limit this week for communicating with people one-way. Wanna tell me what’s happening to you? Great. Fine. But ask how I am once in a while too.

In regular life and work:

Glastonbury was even more awesome than ever before, resulting in an even larger post-Glastonbury lurgy (it always happens – this week in the form of a giant throat infection). As a result, a quiet week, in which a potential new client Sibelius went on holiday for a few weeks, leaving an August gap that made me slightly anxious for a couple of days before it got rapidly filled by a new client Britten with a little bit of Mozart work intertwined [obviously all my clients aren’t dead composers]. All in all, it’s going to be a packed couple of months until early October when my final masters assignment is due.

I was invited to be a godparent (again) to a new human which is an incredible privilege and I’m looking forward to being a corrupting influence on baby Heston.

Baked my first sourdough loaf from a starter Luke gave me (which I have named Bob) and wow, it was delicious. Needed a longer second prove (ended up a little flat), but I am a bread-making convert. Cheap and tasty = the best.