Opinion: Why we mustn't take the 'LGBT' out of pride events

2015-06-09
serious-photo-300x279Writer Brian O'Flynn (picture) on the importance of keeping LGBT Pride Festivals true to their original intentions... It is in the very nature of LGBT Pride to be divisive: some march with us, and some do not. But the divides are not just between the marching and the motionless. They are ideological and political, external and internal. Usually we fear the foreign enemy, but now more than ever, we are in danger of seeing our community crumble from within. The last decade has seen the growth of an ideology of integration in the LGBT community. Some are calling for a complete abolition of pride while others are advocating a move away from our traditional LGBT pride festivals towards something that celebrates “everyone”. In Wicklow, Ireland, this year’s LGBT Pride festival was re-branded as a universal 'pride-for-all' style event. The words “LGBT”, “gay”, “queer” and other variations were conspicuously absent from all advertising. Much dissent followed the appearance of their poster on Facebook, and the organisers were understandably defensive. They obviously sincerely believe in principles of inclusiveness and equality, and feel that the best way to accomplish this is by homogenising pride from an LGBT-oriented event to a universal one. While I respect their intentions, I do not agree with this change. Since the inception of LGBT pride, people have asked why we need to make ourselves look so out-there, so flamboyant, so gay. A steady hum of right-wing muttering to the effect of “What about straight pride? Who’s discriminating now?” has been ever present. We have always endured childish demands for straight pride, white history month, etc. from right-wing opponents. The question is, why on earth are so many well-meaning people suddenly giving in to them? What is important to realise is that LGBT pride has always been open to everyone. If you need proof, then just look at the family fun days that always accompany LGBT Pride festivals. Every effort is usually made to allow participation of non-LGBT people. Surveys show that large percentages of non-LGBT people regularly march in the parades. While the festival has always been and always will be open to everyone, that does not mean that it should celebrate everyone. LGBT people need to be the focus of the festival because we are still an oppressed group. That is a fact, and no amount of special pleading will get around it. Just because we are legislatively in a better place now, does not mean that centuries of prejudice are eradicated. Many laws still exist in countries like Russia and Uganda which reinforce homophobia. Many countries still kill people for being gay. In Ireland, laws which permit Catholic schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers still cast a shadow over us. The blood ban still exists in the UK and Ireland. LGBT children are still bullied in schools; cultural change takes a lot longer than legislative change. Transgender people are still persecuted and face legislative obstacles to the realisation of their identities. Clearly, marriage equality does not mean that all our problems are over. Pride still needs to exist to highlight the oppression faced by members of our community the world over. To abandon the festival just because we have achieved marriage equality would be akin to abandoning our brothers and sisters who still need us. It would be a slap in the face to those who have stood with us through this struggle. By turning to a commercialisation of pride, we are not in fact making others feel included (as they have always been welcome). We are merely giving in to the same misinformed sense of entitlement that spurs straight people to demand straight pride, or white people to appropriate the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag to #AllLivesMatter. Straight people don’t need pride because they will never face oppression due to being straight. White people don’t need a hashtag because they never have to worry about being killed by police just for being white. Homogenising pride erases our history, our culture, and worst of all, our ongoing oppression. It sends a convoluted message that we should be proud of who we are, while simultaneously refusing to declare who we are out of fear of making other privileged groups feel excluded or uncomfortable. Surely the whole point of pride is to make people uncomfortable, by reminding them of the suffering that they are ignoring - it is not to make straight people feel better about themselves. Making LGBT pride into a universal festival is not subversive, it is not inclusive and it is not progressive. It is based on ignorance of our ongoing oppression and it panders to a sense of entitlement amongst privileged groups. LGBT pride needs to continue to celebrate our community and to highlight lingering inequality - until that inequality is completely eradicated. Words by BRIAN O'FLYNN More by Brian:  Did the 'Yes' vote mark the end for Catholic Ireland? 'No' campaigners take a heavy toll on LGBT community