On 25 February, Manchester Pride announced that Ariana Grande will be headlining this year’s Pride event. This announcement sparked debate as some expressed outrage at the choice of a straight artist to headline the event, whilst others were thrilled. Others used this choice of headliner to explain the 100 per cent increase in ticket prices. Ariana responded on Twitter saying she has “no control over ticket prices,” but that “the lgbtq community has been so special to [her]” and she wants to “visit a city that means so much to her” and “put on a show that makes [her] LGBT+ fans feel special and celebrated and supported”.
Last year, Ariana Grande was nominated as the ‘straight ally’ of the year, leading many people to question the role of straight allies in LGBT+ narratives, especially when their place in the spotlight can trade off with their queer counterparts. There have been some historic examples of straight allies who were undeniably valuable to the LBGT+ community. The iconic moment when Princess Diana was photographed shaking hands with a gay man suffering from AIDS, without wearing gloves, challenged the stigma against AIDS and the gay community as a whole, at a time when even doctors would avoid physical contact with these patients.
However, some are arguing the danger of straight participants potentially beginning to outnumber queer participants at these events as Pride enters the mainstream. This is especially problematic when there is a finite number of tickets available. After the price of Manchester Pride tickets increased from £28 to £70.95, Edinburgh Pride told The Student that they were disappointed in their fellow Pride organisation, highlighting that with such high prices, ‘city Pride is only for those who can afford to attend.’
The question of who can afford to attend raises the bigger question of who Pride should be for. Whilst today Pride may more closely resemble a party, the first Pride event occurred in response to police violence against the most marginalised members of the queer community. Despite the significance of this historical event, many still point out that black trans people are typically sidelined. Proponents of repoliticising Pride particularly highlight the trans-erasure and whitewashing of the 2015 film Stonewall, as a fictional white, gay man replaced the Marsha P. Johnson, a real, black transgender activist whom historians credit as the first individual to fight back against the police raid of the Stonewall Inn.
Despite the central role that black activists have played in LGBT+ history, from the Compton Cafeteria riots of 1966 to the first Black Pride event in Washington DC in 1991, mainstream Pride today has been accused of neglecting the black community. Last year The Stonewall Group, Britain’s best-funded LGBT+ organisation, withdrew support from London Pride due to ‘lack of diversity’, instead opting to support Black Pride which made marked efforts towards inclusivity.
One such effort was to negotiate with the Metropolitan Police ahead of the event, agreeing on a minimal police presence with as many police officers of colour possible, in light of police violence against the black community. In contrast, the police presence was incredibly visible at London Pride, especially in 2016 when a gay policeman proposed to his boyfriend, attracting national attention.
It is not just the black community who are affected by police presence, but trans people as well, particularly those of colour. Whilst ‘woman impersonation’ (the arrestable offense that incited the Compton Cafeteria riots) may no longer be on the books, ‘walking whilst trans’ still garners disproportionate police attention, and trans women are significantly more likely to be arrested on prostitution charges. Many argue that negotiations with the police are necessary to improve Pride marches and to allow wider inclusion.
The police fully engaged with Edinburgh Pride last year, with a contingent from the Police LGBT Federation showing gay pride. Edinburgh Pride also featured representatives from various corporate sponsors which have attracted both praise and criticism in recent years.
For LGBT+ employees, it can be incredibly meaningful to march alongside colleagues and to garner financial support for the community from their employers. Others criticised the organisers for ‘pink-washing’ Pride with too many corporate sponsors, some going so far as to vandalise the Pride route with anti-capitalist graffiti in 2017.
The preponderance of logos at the event speaks to its commercialisation and the way that the LGBT+ community is increasingly viewed as a consumer group. Some LGBT+ organisations support this, for example, the British LGBT+ Awards have a category for best advertising campaign, recognising adverts with positive representations of queer people.
However, others criticise hypocritical organisations that sponsor events only accessible to the most privileged members of the community, whilst being complicit in the oppression of the most vulnerable members of the community. A key example of this is British Airways, which sponsored Pride whilst complying with the Home Office in the deportation of queer refugees who may face prosecution in their home countries for their sexual orientation.
As society becomes increasingly diverse and queer people are made increasingly visible, the diversity of queer experiences can get lost along the way. Pride today can feel more like a victory lap than a political march, though victory still seems a long way off for the most marginalised members of society.
At London Pride 2018, trans marchers were shocked to see organisers allow trans-exclusionary radical feminists to head the march despite their insistence on signs bearing messages such as ‘transactivism erases feminism.’ Meanwhile, Edinburgh Pride 2018 formed the Teviot Loft Bar and Roof Garden into a trans space, where discussions regarding trans rights and priorities would be held, alongside short trans films and a professional makeup artist providing free makeovers.
Pride organisers face challenges in many areas in creating a Pride event which caters for all. Cooperation with the many groups within the LGBT+ community can allow for a wider understanding of the problems faced and issues to be prioritised, in order to include as many members of the community as possible. In improving diversity and visibility of marginalised groups, key LGBT+ issues can be raised that may not be recognised by other LGBT+ people or by straight allies. Through greater diversity, Pride can become a political platform whilst also being a celebration of queer pride.
Brett Herriot, Edinburgh Pride organiser, told The Student, ‘Ariana Grande is a respected artist and advocate for the LGBTQI community and has earned her way into the hearts of the people of Manchester and will produce a spectacular Pride show’. However, Pride is more than just a show. Looking back at the history of activism behind Pride can highlight the many issues that the queer community still face beyond the choice of Pride headliner. Increased visibility comes with increased responsibility, making it critical for Pride organisers to consider the political potentials of Pride alongside the opportunity to throw a great party.
Image Credits: Mattia Belletti via Flickr