Pride is still a protest – but don’t we need all sorts of queer spaces to thrive as a community?
Updated: Aug 14
“The Stonewall Riot was a manifestation of pent-up energies that erupted on the streets of Greenwich Village in 1969. Today I live and work in the Village, and it is hard to find any residue of those energies. Yet the task of finding traces of those transformative political potentialities is nonetheless important”
Similar to Greenwich Village, London’s annual Pride march is largely transformed these days, devoid of many of those revolutionary energies which have inspired the first marches as protest. In fact, it is more than that. Many of our queer communities no longer feel part of today’s London Pride as it has become a fest of rainbow capitalism - occupied and misappropriated by corporations using it to pinkwash their businesses, making themselves seen as more inclusive than they often actually are. It has meant that many of my friends who are queer activists have avoided, boycotted, or actively protested it for years. For these reasons, I had more or less the same approach to London’s Pride for nearly a decade.
This year something shifted. It was the first time I went after an 8-year break. Despite doubts that prevailed in my mind the evening before and all morning on the day, it’s proven to be an interesting experience. It was an opportunity to feel and share some much-needed queer joy after a prolonged period of relentless and stressful work – not to mention a free party (the kind very much required by my empty wallet at the time!). It was also a chance to have unexpected conversations with new queer friends, to connect and see Pride with fresh eyes. It is these conversations in particular that have provided a source of some much-needed reflection, which I wanted to share here.
Talking to a new queer friend I met there convinced me that there is still a need for Pride, even one much diluted in its aims from its founding days, like the one in London. It sends a message of acceptance out into the world, particularly important for those who may just be coming out or thinking about it, and thus not yet aware of the more radical sites of queerness. The conversation reminded me of my days as a baby queer in London when I knew nothing of the more hidden pockets of the community that I would eventually find. Pride was the first point of call, the first place of queer joy one could easily find as a new arrival in London, a place where you could finally breathe if you were in that position. If you remember your baby queer days, you likely know what I’m talking about! Especially if you’re a migrant, who’s once arrived in London without any prior knowledge of the queer community locally. Regardless of your exact starting point, if you didn’t know anything else about queer London, you would have likely known about Pride and found your way there.
This is not to excuse pinkwashing, especially considering it in the context of London of gentrification and shrinking spaces of more radical queerness and activism within it. Olimpia Burchiellaro recently wrote an excellent book exploring this seeming contradiction of rainbow capitalism. My own research centres around similar issues, so I would hardly want to excuse it.
However, that day, it was important for us all that we were still able to find community solidarity, and each other, at Pride, especially worth noting for us as migrants from countries where queer acceptance is not as widespread (Poland and India) and where it can often be dangerous just to come out, let alone march loudly and proudly through our cities. It was important to us to be able to share our stories with each other and find this queer space, as imperfect as it was. This space was what brought us together in that particular constellation of difference – as 3 queer migrant women from very different starting points, who were still able to find that queer community of shared understanding there. We found our way there somewhat randomly. But we did. And we were glad we did do, as the conversations we had were enlightening and enriching, bringing us closer to the queer community that we all need.
They also reminded me of how incredible it felt to be part of Pride for the first time. Seeing the joy, the freedom, and the colourful beauty of the crowd made me feel as if I was part of some amazing. Some new, potential world, which is not quite there yet, but which is brought closer and made palpable by spaces such as Pride, highlighting the transformative potential of queerness – bringing me back to the words of Muñoz in Cruising Utopia.
Finally, the conversation reminded me of my own privilege and of a piece of writing I came across a couple of years ago that had highlighted it for me then, that I clearly needed to revisit. It talked about the realisation that in some contexts even imagining a queer space can feel impossible. And it read something like this:
“Perhaps we could be excused for believing such a [queer] space was unthinkable.”
As a Polish queer, these words resonated with me, as the seeming impossibility still exists in many contexts in my home country, and yet their depth was something of an awakening. And that Pride day, I needed to be reminded of the sobering moment of reading those words for the first time.
So, for all those queers living in places – whether material or emotional – where imagining queer space can seem so hard at times, let’s continue to celebrate Pride where we can, however we can, whenever we can, until we have achieved queer liberation for all.
Pride 2023, celebrating with new friends