‘Nothing is free nowadays’, or so we were repeatedly told at the public ‘consultation’ re. charging entrance fees for Brighton Pride Street Party, held on 28th May 2014. It was one of those familiar phrases so effortlessly employed to underpin the dominant discussions allowed by the chair. A clichéd expressed used to pacify the residents of the ‘footfall’ in which the event is now planned to take place. It was striking how little time was given to those who attend the event from outside of this site, the majority queer. We were told we’d get to speak, if we listened to countless presentations on ‘revised pride’. We listened to ‘Pride is not political’, ‘unsavoury acts/people’, ‘Hillsborough waiting to happen’, ‘homophobic attacks.’ We then listened to the questions and concerns raised by residents and shop owners, who were twice-round privileged above those who attend from outside St James’s. It was clear that this was no consultation: the plans were already drawn and the minutes that were never taken will ensure that the many questions that went unanswered will never be followed up.
The idea that both pride and the decision to privatise it is not political strikes at the heart of why it is. I have a difficult history with Pride. I knew Pride happened, but I also knew how good we’d be together, which is why I stayed away. I wasn’t privileged enough to live in St James Street growing up, but privileged to live in the middle of fucking nowhere. In Danehill, being queer meant you got your name spray painted across the park you loved to play in, and that you got quality time with your dad as you painted over ‘Owen’s gay’ together at night. Flags were flown for god, not queers, and prides colours were only to be found on my sisters Rainbow Bright doll.
My girlfriend (my wonderfully understanding girlfriend) took me to my first pride at 13. I was too terrified even to talk, yet wonderfully at home with strangers. With the benefit of height I could do it all, for one day a year. It gave me a love for Brighton that I have to this day: a sense of home that I hope never to loose. It has shaped my interests as a historian – focusing upon ‘provincial’ queer histories and their relationship to the ‘metropolis’ – and it has informed my politics.
It was no surprise to me that when a representative of Sussex University LBGTQ soc raised issues at the meeting, including student discounts, a resident of St James’s hissed that ‘they’re not from Brighton!’. Having studied at Sussex for four years, and used the Sussex Gay Liberation Front (SGLF) archive material, it seemed that history does indeed repeat itself. Those same old responses were around then too, back in ’71 when a group of Sussex University students and lesbians and gay men from the town founded the SGLF. As Brighton Ourstory have written: ‘They organised the first gay demonstration in Brighton in October 1972 and the first Brighton Gay Pride march in July 1973. Only a tiny minority of the town’s gay population was ready to take to the streets however, and there was not another Brighton Pride until 1991.’ Pride is a protest; to inform and to be seen and heard. It was for me 17 years ago, and I know it is for millions now.
Pride has been political – for me – ever since it informed my politics. It has taught me that if I were 13 today, I would be the ‘undesirable’ element that will no longer be welcomed at Pride 2014. The money I possessed at my first pride paid for water and my train ticket, and yet because the event was free, I was free to be with others like me and others who might like what I was. I couldn’t afford that privilege today, and nor should I have to, because otherwise we’ve forgotten why pride matters. It does to me, and to all those who are told they cannot be proud because they can’t afford to be at the party. We’ve been partying for too long to let that happen now. Pride is political because people say our ‘acts’ are ‘unspeakable’; because people were beaten up at last years pride because they’re queer. We need Pride, and it needs to be free.