I thought this year I’d wait until the dust settled. It seems it’s very important in Manchester to have an opinion about the annual Gay Pride festival, or at least to tell everyone about it on Facebook. If you run a gay night or two, like I do, some people want to perceive you as some kind of spokesperson. I’m not, but I was needled several times to say something scandalous in the direction of Manchester Pride. I don’t have it in me. I think it boils down to this: Pride as a party, or Pride as a protest/political consciousness raiser? Doing both isn’t really working. At least not for me.
Don’t get me wrong, we need big gay cultural happenings, and we have them: Homotopia, Queer Up North, Duckie at Southbank, Queer Contact... These sorts of events are by and for LGBT people and have been brilliant over the years. Go and find out. Buy tickets. Support them. But spending bundles of pink pounds to hire The Feeling and a reformed Sugababes under a banner of ‘Gay Pride’? How exactly does it ‘celebrate LGBT life’? I’m not sure I get it. Or want it. If you must attend a Kate Nash concert, just go to one, like everyone else does. I go to gigs all year round, I don’t need Pride for that. I need Pride for something else.
We might be about to get marriage equality in the UK, but worldwide the net is closing in on gay people. It’s real and I am frightened by it. If you don’t have a global perspective about yourself as a gay person, the concept of perceiving yourself as a group at all – which is, after all, the essence of Pride –falters. Except that Pride itself isn’t the place to talk about this, and I wonder if it should be. I am pleased that Manchester Pride expanded its Fringe program to include smaller arts and cultural events, including, crucially, some that take place outside the ghetto. I am glad the Pride Board has a trans* individual on it. I am glad they erected a ‘To Russia With Love’ wall in the Village to show Mancunian’s support towards persecuted people in our twinned city of St Petersburg. I hope they leave it up beyond Pride, I’d like to see it myself. But why Russia now, and not Uganda any other year, or any one of the dozens of ex British colonies where we exported homophobia to in the first place, at any other Pride? It’s complicated, and I’m trying to dance here.
During Manchester Pride, only a paid wristband gets you access onto Canal Street, unless you live there, and even bar staff who work in the Village can’t see the big bands without paying. I put parties on for gay (and non-gay) people outside the Gay Village. I do it all year round and I do it over Pride too. You might think this is somehow divisive, luring punters away from the gay enclave. But sexuality has no postcode, and the Village itself has barely any club space anyway, while the bars during Pride weekend – it has to be said – are overcrowded, overpriced, riddled with bad beer and bad music. I moved away from Blackpool a long time ago to get away from that. It’s not for me.
This year, I’m part of a newly-formed and loose collective of promoters under the name Queer Alt. Manchester who hosted a roster of alternative and non-Village gay and queer events during Pride. If you think we’re cashing in; yes, we absolutely are. Every last one of us donated cash to charities, and paid our performers. As for Pride itself, I’m not sitting in judgement, it would be the height of hypocrisy. It was only a few years ago I went out on the Thursday of Pride, and with very few breaks, kept going one way or another until the Monday. Trust me, I wasn’t thinking about St Petersburg then.
Besides, I’m not sure what form a more politicised Pride would take anyway. For the most part I’m an armchair activist. The odd demonstration aside, I’m all about petitions, letters, angry Tweets, political discussions, charity donations, that kind of thing. Are you much different? But I would like another way to get to meet the community sometimes, one that didn’t involve booze. Especially now, when I feel so powerless to contribute to any kind of positive change in the world. I feel hopeless when I think about Uganda or Moscow, never mind Damascus or Cairo or Palestine. But this has happened to me before, and the way I got out of it? Reading Angela Davis and listening to Larry Kramer. Watching REDS. Reading about mass resistance and small victories. Watching TED lectures about community action and feminism. Watching ACT-UP videos on YouTube. Watching We Were Here. This is where something like Gay Pride should come in, to bolster that feeling of insurmountable human aggression and oppression, to tackle the apathy that inevitably follows. Watching Barclays Bank drive a truck down Deansgate decked out in this year’s designated Pride theme (‘The 1980s’) was never going to do that for me. And I really need it.