Pride and Prejudice: What Pride means in 2019

As Pride season descends upon the UK’s cities again, we ask some of Intersections’ LGBTQ+ writers what Pride – the march and queer pride – means to them

Feature by Katie Goh | 31 May 2019
  • Pride by Ida Henrich

In 2019, what it means to be queer has changed drastically. While rainbow flag Costa cups and LGBT M&S sandwiches (bacon in an LGBT sandwich, really M&S, really) are markers of how a certain, hetero-palatable version of queerness has become mainstream, it also points to how this same image of queerness has been hijacked by corporations out to make a few bucks by sticking rainbows on soggy BLTs.

The same can be said for Pride, the march, itself. Once a fringe movement of protest, many cities' Pride events have become festivals, ticketed and costly, making queer solidarity inaccessible, while banks, the government and global tech companies have taken to throwing some glitter from their floats once a year for woke points.   

Growing up as a teenager at Belfast Pride, where the march is both a party and very much a protest at the Northern Irish and British government’s refusal to legalise same-sex marriage in the country, instilled a sense of Pride being an essential display of visibility and solidarity. Cut to 2018, at London Pride where I stood in the shade with 30,000 queers and allies watching on while Google, Virgin, Barclays and Facebook paraded past spewing rainbow capitalism across the city and I’ve never felt less represented or more glum about Pride.

While it shouldn’t be taken for granted that young queer folk today are growing up with Drag Race, rainbow cups and bad gay sandwiches as the norm, Pride needs to be held to a higher standard. Last year’s London Pride was hijacked by transphobic protestors and excluded marginalised LGBTQ+ groups and notable queer BAME people while more and more LGBTQ+ people are being pushed out of Pride by businesses, to look on at a version of mainstream rainbow flag queerness meant to represent them.

As Pride season begins again, we ask some of Intersections’ LGBTQ+ writers what pride – whether the march or the feeling – means to them today.

Liv McMahon on bi-pride

For me, being bisexual often entails the feeling of living in-between – a sensation felt across the spectrum of LGBTQ+ as the inexplicable queerness of being raised in a world demanding either the performance of our sexuality or the erasure of it. From being asked to sum up my preference for men or women in the form of a fraction, to having ex-boyfriends completely deny the duality of my sexual attraction, my bi-pride is regularly wounded by the slim definitions imposed by socio-sexual homogeneity.

So, when Pride season arrives, I find myself trying to tackle how this all translates into the day-to-day reality of just being me – and desiring both being lazily understood as confusion or greed. And as our reality diverges to encompass a digital world where heteronormativity thrives alongside an endless stream of Drag Race memes, overused rainbow emojis and #diversity, so do the ways we have to navigate and challenge another dimension which proclaims queer liberation as it death-drops into the trappings of tokenism.

There’s a susceptible weirdness, for example, in watching celebrities have their sexuality second-guessed, sought after and assumed by so many online – as if their being in the spotlight means owing us their whole soul and whatever its self-definitions. It speaks to my personal experience, whereby I repeatedly put off publicly owning my bisexuality for fear of having to repackage myself accordingly for it to be accepted.

Claims that 'in 2019 we’re all woke now' fail all those still in the throes of fighting to be seen as simply ourselves, having to straddle enforced cis-heterosexuality which dictates that we perform and police our queerness for it to be acknowledged or applauded. Pride can be a dreamy scene of dancing in pure drunken delight amongst a mass of queer bodies, bonded together by love, sweat and glitter, to sweet sounds of disco at club nights like Hot Mess or HEY QT. But through the banners and rainbows and whistles are still the people who have to fight to belong in their own body and identity.

Cathy Brennan on transphobia at Pride 

I have never been to Pride and I don't intend to start this year. In the last two years there has been an undeniable hostility towards the trans community in the UK, and Pride events have reflected that. 

At Glasgow Pride in 2017 several trans people were arrested for protesting against the inclusion of police officers in the march. Given that Pride was born out of the anti-police Stonewall riots, the protestors' actions were justified. 

In 2018, Get the L Out hijacked the front of the march at London Pride. Organisers and police (who were also part of the march) did nothing. The goal of Get the L Out was to make trans people unwelcome at an event where they should have felt safe. In my opinion their actions already constitute a form of violence with long-lasting implications.

This is particularly important since the steady rise of transphobic reporting in the British press (a wave of transphobic articles also swept through the Scottish press over the Easter weekend this year) has made it less safe for trans people to participate in public life. I have been harassed and threatened both online and off before comments on London Pride. Furthermore, in March there were two instances of serious assaults on trans teenagers in Essex and Grimsby.

Although the events in Glasgow and London took place both a year and a country a part, it's still worth noting how trans protestors were violently arrested while transphobic protestors continue to be treated with kid gloves. It is a reflection of the distorted media narratives surrounding trans people in the UK. Unless meaningful action is taken against transphobes at Pride and in wider public life, then the situation will continue to deteriorate for trans people across the UK. 

Andrés Ordorica on writing queer pride

The first time I felt proud of my queerness was on the dance floor of Oasis, a gay nightclub in upstate New York. I was nineteen and in my second year of university. Having only come out nine months prior and having carried the weight of my hidden sexuality for most of my teenager years, being in the nightclub was both a revelation and a revolutionary act. 

Once I accepted my sexuality, venues like Oasis became a common feature of my early twenties. Whether a queer disco in a former railroad arch or bar full of leather daddies, each venue became my classroom. Proximity to other queer people taught me about the beauty and diversity of our community. I grew proud of being gay, began to own my desires and love the freedom of the dance floor. 

I am now almost thirty and nightclubs rarely feature as part of my evenings and weekends. Pride, for me, now means something entirely different. It means engaging with community in new ways. Lighthouse – Edinburgh’s radical bookshop – has become a welcome resource in my quest for community. Here I have met wonderful writers, bibliophiles and activists who represent the spectrum of LGBTQ+ people and allies. I have discovered books that bring to life the myriad of experiences that exist in our community. I have learned from people whose queerness is entirely different to my own. All of this has challenged and inspired how I approach my writing.

There is strength in the words LGBTQ+ writers use to unpack the trauma of living closeted lives. There is beauty in how we depict the act of sex. There is power in how we write of our future hopes. My fellow writers have helped to unlock new meanings of pride. My mission is to now write stories that are unabashedly queer. After ten years of being ‘out’, I have a renewed sense of purpose. Stories and characters present opportunities to change lives and open minds. I am resolute to not let this pride grow complacent. It may have taken a decade to get here, but I am proud to be queering the page one story at a time.

Article amendment (3-06-19): This article originally referred to comments Cathy Brennan made on Twitter last year regarding physical action against transphobic protestors