[Photo credit: Andy Worthington]
I’ve just returned from a three hour public meeting organised by Pride, the Council, the police, a private event organising company and the Rainbow Fund. The event was supposed to be a consultation about new regulations proposed to turn the St James’ St Pride street party into a paid-for, ticketed, closed off event.
The meeting was heavily communicated to local residents of the event area, and very poorly communicated to the LGBTQ+ community. The only reason I discovered it was due to a friend creating a Facebook event and inviting me to it.
At the meeting, Pride, the council, police, a private event organising company and the rainbow fund representative all spoke at length about their proposals. The chair person from the rainbow fund struggled to keep control of the meeting with lots of angry residents and queers trying to have their say. Eventually he decided that the residents should speak first and went around the circle twice, only letting residents speak. This took almost two whole hours. I have no idea why residents were prioritised over the community for whom the celebration is supposed to be for. Eventually I got to speak, by which time almost half the attendees had already left.
My points were thus:
- Who is taking minutes and will we be emailed them?
[Eventual response was that nobody was taking minutes, but a summary would be put on the Pride website and our comments would be taken into consideration. I can’t imagine whose memory will absorb three hours of debate well enough. This seems quite undemocratic in process and risks heavy editorialising of the debate].
- It seems the plans are well in place. Has the fee been agreed or is this a real consultation and the fee is subject to community approval? If so when will we vote?
[This was not really answered apart from the comment that comments will be taken into consideration. However from the tone of the presentations it was clear the decisions had been made about the entrance fee and that was not up for debate, only minor details around how it will be implemented were up for being challenged].
- How exactly will the fee in itself make it safer, control numbers or deter drug dealers? It seems the organisation and safety measures are being conflated with charging a fee as a helpful measure.
[This was not answered at all. Later my friend put forward the fact that no evidence has been given that charging will make it safer, and evidence shows that in Manchester where they charge entrance fees to the Pride party, crime has not gone down at all.]
- What specific council cuts have been made which now require this to be individually funded, and when was that voted through?
[The councillor responded that there has been no specific cut affecting budgets for the St James’ St Pride party, however there have been lots of cuts in general. This doesn’t really answer the question in terms of how exactly central government cuts have affected council budgets required to manage the St James’ St Pride party. Someone else made a request that if the event is now a paid-for event, the council should make a statement declaring that government cuts are the reason for this. One councillor was very supportive of this but it was unclear whether it will in reality be actioned. The Pride organiser said that whilst he may personally support such a statement, as they are a charity/non-profit they are not allowed to make political statements.]
- What if someone can’t afford the fee? Can they apply for a free ticket?
[Initially the chairperson confirmed there will be no way whatsoever to get free passes to the street party. Later the Pride organiser said that if people volunteer at Pride e.g. by holding a placard about international homophobic laws etc. on the parade, they can get a free ticket to the main park event as well as the street party. There was lots of comment from the chair that people should volunteer more. This ignores the fact that lots of people contribute to their community already, but are only rewarded with the freedom to participate in Pride for free if they volunteer for a specific organisation (Pride CIC).]
- If the numbers are due to the park charging, maybe the park should not charge, or the park fees should pay for any street party costs. Alternatively the businesses involved will earn a lot so let them pay.
[Pride organisers responded to confirm that no profits are made by the park event being ticketed, and challenged why they should subsidise the street party. However it was said earlier in the meeting that they do subsidise the street party anyway. Lots of the event panel agreed that businesses should pay, but the event company man said they couldn’t get more from the businesses than they already were getting, and if the businesses dropped out the whole thing would have to be cancelled. The Pride organiser said if we don’t charge for the street party the whole event (the whole Pride weekend) could be cancelled. Later this was challenged by a friend of mine who put forward the point that Pride cannot be cancelled because someone will always organise Pride of some form, official or unofficial.]
- Finally I’d like to say in response to the councillor saying this isn’t about politics, that pride began as a political protest and charging working class people a fee to celebrate their identity, excluding queer people in poverty, is a political attack. Nobody charges for a political protest, so if we call this a protest, albeit a merry one, can you legally charge us for it?
[Nobody answered this so I’m guessing they could not charge us entry to our own political protest. Earlier someone had pointed out that the March for England costs the council a lot of money, and they don’t have to pay because it’s seen as a political protest. The panel could not understand the parallel here however, because they said that whilst the essence of Pride is political, the St James’ St party is not part of Pride and is not political. I suggested that celebrating, even in a party, if you’re celebrating your queer identity, that is a political action too. The discussion then derailed as the panel focused on the fact that less people go to the March for England than they go to the St James’ St Pride party. Which is missing the point about a right to public protest entirely.]
So what can the working class queer community do about Pride being privatised?
- Organise our own public meeting to discuss ways to oppose these plans – creating alternatives or to reclaiming community ownership of the street party.
- Have a party elsewhere. Lots of people suggested the beach and the Steine, and that’s accepted and expected anyway. There are also alternative pride parties happening e.g. at the Cowley Club.
- Make it a political demonstration – they can’t charge us to protest. We can still dance and party. Remember that just because you’re partying doesn’t mean you’re not being political. Queer visibility is a political action.
- Discuss all of this on the Brighton Queers Against Cuts Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/brightonqac/
I’ll finish on the song, Fight for your right to party by the Beastie Boys…
Remember that Stonewall began as a riot, started by trans people, against the police who kept raiding Stonewall gay bar. I.e. people fighting for their right to party as queer people. This is why pride parties are political.