Opinion: Free Me From Your Pride?

people in front of buildings

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Scott De Buitléir writes on the importance of Pride, its different manifestations, and a memorable teenage trip to Denmark. 

For my Leaving Cert holiday, while many of the lads in my school year flew off to Zakinthos, I flew to Denmark with my friend Jensen for 5 days in the city of my dreams, Copenhagen. It was a trip of a lifetime; not just because we were both celebrating our exam results and the start of our lives in college, but also because of a completely unexpected coincidence. We were two young LGBT kids who happened to land in Copenhagen just in time for the capital’s Pride festival, and we couldn’t have been more excited.

As we checked into our typically Scandinavian-styled hostel, I noticed the stack of official Copenhagen Pride magazines, and picked up a copy, as we settled into our room. One particular article stood out for me, with the title of «Fri Mig Fra Jeres Stolthed» – meaning Free Me From Your Pride. Sadly, the article isn’t available archived online, so I don’t remember its writer, but I remember its point. The writer explained that Pride was rooted in protest and riot from the days of Stonewall, and that recent attempts to make it into a summertime music festival, free of anti-capitalist or anti-establishment motives, were gutting Pride of its purpose.

It was a stark and striking piece for an 18-year-old to read, especially as I was on holiday in (what I thought of as) a progressive and gay-friendly city. The photo of the writer in punk clothing, including an anarchist logo on his ripped denim jacket, made me think that he’d have no time for the events and parties we were hoping to enjoy in the Danish capital, and I didn’t really understand why.

Years later, that article’s title has stayed lodged in my mind. Since that holiday in 2006, I’ve attended plenty of Pride festivals in Ireland and the UK, and they have been a mixture of celebration and protest every time. There have been groups in the parades which advocate for LGBT and human rights, along with political party groups, workers’ unions, employee networks, student groups, support organisations, and many more. There is almost always a speech, stage, or event, that seeks to raise awareness of inequalities that LGBT+ people still experience today, either at home or abroad. There have been social and political forums, artistic exhibitions and performances, networking evenings, and other events designed to let people learn from their own community, and those around them. The parade’s floats and boom-boxes, nightlife events and drag shows, are certainly colourful parts of the programme of events for every Pride festival, but they’re not the only thing about it.

For that reason, I’ve never really understood the calls to return Pride to its protest-only roots. Yes, protest is important when inequality exists, and the last few weeks have seen that come to light yet again. The development of Pride into a regular and (generally) accepted festival, however, means that it can provide a space for curious people – whether LGBT+ or not – to engage in an open and safe environment. It also allows for young people questioning, or coming to terms with, their sexual or gender identity, to see that the LGBT+ community is multifaceted, far from the homophobic or transphobic stereotypes which still eminate from certain corners of society.

Organising a festival, however, is never easy. Sponsors are often desperately needed to add to barely-sufficient funding from local or national government, and help to support its various running costs; insurance, audiovisual equipment and venue hire, speaker fees, and so on. Corporations have come under fire for years by certain grassroot groups, however, for letting Pride become a vessel for so-called Rainbow Capitalism, with the presence of major companies marching in the parades and acting as sponsors. While there is some merit in these groups’ criticisms – no company should have a rainbow version of their logo without actively supporting their LGBT+ employees at the very least – seeking to remove them outright ignores the steep running costs of each festival every year.

Pride, however, does not need to be seen as just a protest, or just a party. We, as a community, pride ourselves in diversity. That means a diversity of sexual and gender identities, but it also means a diverse group of other categories; ethnicities, nationalities, social backgrounds, political persuasions, interests, languages, careers, and opinions. No LGBT+ community is singular in how it votes, how it acts, or how it prioritises various issues and causes.

As a result, one approach to Pride is not going to suit everyone. Some will want to protest outside their local or national governments, and some will just want to dance and drink with their friends to music, celebrating who they are with their chosen family. The option should be there for both, especially for those younger generations, who will ultimately lead our community and society in years to come. It is our duty to show them what has been fought for, what has been achieved, what is yet to be done, and what is worth celebrating in the meantime.

This year, many of our Pride festival events are pushed online, or postponed, due to the Coronavirus pandemic. I would encourage you to take a look at your local Pride festival’s events calendar, and see which groups are involved.

Register for a webinar or a talk, sign up to a social group’s newsletter, or ask your boss if your company has any plans for Diversity & Inclusion. Even if all you want to do is party, though, make sure you enjoy it. Pride is meant to be about having the freedom to do so.

Happy Pride.

About Scott De Buitléir

Scott De Buitléir is an author and poet from Dublin, Ireland. He is founder of EILE Magazine, a digital publication for the Irish LGBT community, and has published several works of poetry, non-fiction, and fiction. He lives in Cork with his partner.
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