On ‘inclusive’ Pride

After last year’s inclusion – and then ban – of UKIP’s LGBT group from Pride in London, organisers are consulting on criteria for exclusion of groups from the parade and associated events. Though many criticized the association with UKIP on the grounds of various racist and homophobic statements made by party candidates, the group was eventually refused participation on ‘safety grounds’. Explaining the decision, a Pride spokesperson said:

We aim to unite our community, not divide it, and our intention is to serve the whole of our community with an inclusive event, so to exclude any group is not a decision we take lightly.

In their consultation document, London Pride are trying to articulate in plain language the grounds on which a group’s inclusion might be challenged in the future. At the heart of their plan is a requirement for groups to commit to

the values of the global Pride movement of acceptance and inclusion of all, regardless of race, disability, gender, gender identity, sexual identity, sexual orientation, age, political affiliation, marital or civil partnership status, or nationality.

A group – or individual – also confirms that they are taking part

in the spirit of collaboration and mutual support to help promote and further the cause of LGBT+ liberation and campaign for true equality for all.

The claim on ‘acceptance and inclusion for all’, though, finds it limit in official statements ‘that are homophobic, biphobic, transphobic, sexist, racist or in any other way discriminatory in intent or impact’, in behaviour that has disrupted or ‘offended’ participants or observers of Pride, or actions that would bring Pride into disrepute. It’s unclear whether or not UKIP’s LGBT group would be excluded or not on these grounds –  whether statements made by party leaders or official candidates would be held against the group.

While well intentioned, the qualifiers of ‘offense’ and ‘disrepute’ also mark some fairly murky waters, not least about the public face of Pride, once a protest march and now a celebratory parade. Does Pride need to be tasteful? Does it need to be reputable? Might offense be more politically desirable than a claim on acceptance that doesn’t really exist, or which only applies selectively?

London Pride is not alone in wrestling with these problems. Glasgow’s Free Pride faced a public backlash when it was reported that they would not book any drag performers on the grounds that organisers felt that it would make some of those who were transgender or questioning their gender uncomfortable. Though this decision was later reversed, the organisers explained their original position:

Free Pride is inherently challenging; we have known that from the start. As a small organisation, we disagree with the highly commercialised and depoliticised nature of mainstream Pride. Our aim continues to be to create a safe, accessible space for the most marginalised LGBTQIA people. […]The original decision was made because many trans members of Free Pride have had negative experiences with drag acts veering towards racism, misogyny and transphobia; the lack of contact with the drag community contributed.

Read the group’s full statement here.

The challenge faced by London Pride now – and Glasgow Free Pride last summer – is in finding a balance between commitments to inclusivity, non-discrimination and safety, impulses which might pull in very different directions. The fact of being non-heterosexual and/or non-cisgendered offers no guarantee of solidarity, and the commitment to a safe-space for a particular community might necessitate the tactical exclusion of others – including those who might be allies.1. Part of the wider picture is a history of the LGBTQ+ community which has been far from inclusive: while that history shouldn’t deny the impulse towards a more universal movement, it’s not something that can be simply ignored (not least when the force of such exclusions are still being felt).

You can respond to London Pride’s consultation here.

  1. The point here is that safe spaces are qualified by more than the simple absence of directly aggressive or antagonistic players. One of the ways that allies can be allies is not insisting that we be allowed to enter those spaces []