Finding the Pride in World Pride London

Image via Jeffrey James Keyes

“We came all the way from Italy for World Pride,” a group of girls says while decked out in rainbow gear. “So, why is it so small?” they ask a man wearing a pink World Pride director shirt. Obviously, the group had not been following the drama that unfolded ten days before. And if I had not been listening to the murmurs and rumors that swirled around the blogosphere I would have been thinking the same thing. The story goes that WorldPride finally admitted, no less than two weeks before the celebration, that it fell way short of the money the organization needed to get the proper permits and security. “Any event of this scale in Central London means an enormous cost base. From public safety, to licensing, to first aid, to stage management, there are many different elements of the event that needs to be paid for. For WorldPride this year, Pride London’s cost-base increased by 30% as compared to the previous year. We have always maintained that Pride London remains a FREE event for people to attend,” an official statement from Pride London reads. “This year, the problems arose, not because we have a lack of pledged funds, but because we were unable to collect enough funds from those pledged to provide the strict financial assurances to all parties involved.”

Find out all about what happens after the jump and the ultimate outcome of it all…

Through some quick thinking (or last-minute thinking) the organizers called the pride celebration a protest/rally to then shift the cost of security to the police. The result, though, gave the police greater control of the event, which resulted in even more reports of scale-downs that included the banning of floats, which organizers had already spent thousands of pounds building, and the shortening of the parade as well as changes to the start time. The famous post-pride events were also canceled in Soho and according to Pride London “Westminster City Council did not progress certain permits regarding the closing of roads and parking suspensions for the usual Soho revelry – and this is why Pride London had to pull out of all “official” Soho activities as per usual, because we will not endorse any event that is not safe for members of the community.” Then, on July 4, Tony Hughes took over as Interim Chair of the charity after Dr Patrick Williams stepped down as a result of his handling of the whole event that had five years to be put together. At this point, I already was in London ready to cover the event.

So here I am, standing at the start of World Pride 2012 on a rainy Saturday morning. A small crowd gathers for the 11 A.M. start. With no ballyhoo, Peter Tatchell, one of Britiain’s most famous gay rights campaigners who walked the first march exactly 40 years ago, begins to step forward through the one-person-deep crowd. “OMG” we think to ourselves while remaining positive while quietly cheering on the march’s first few groups. The “protestors” were only allowed to walk on one side of the road, so busses zoom by the unoccupied lane on Baker St. There is something disheartening watching drag queens waltz by to little reaction from the still-small crowd.

Image via Jeffrey James Keyes

Things begin to pickup with the beats of competing drum lines and the crowd slowly builds up. Most likely because people still think the event is scheduled for 1 P.M. Outrageous queens, twirl through the multi-national participants. Radio stations and DJs can’t use floats so they have volunteers push them on carts and revelers do not allow the cutbacks, politicians, or police to dictate how how to celebrate pride.

We walk along the route toward Trafalgar Square, crowds begin to swell and culminate in the world-famous square, and the Brits’ boozy spirit boosts the morale as cheers welcome the marchers. Despite the lack of large floats, the message of the marchers seems to take on a whole new meaning.

With no Tesco, Google, British Airways, Orange-sponsored trucks cruising by the crowds, the gathering takes on the zeitgeist found 40 years ago when pride was a call to action, pride was a rallying cry, and pride was a moment to come together as a community to say we’re here, we’re queer, and we don’t need big business or big government to bring us together.

Photo by Jeffrey James Keyes.

The highlight of the day comes in the square where a large stage somehow still managed to get setup and various acts perform—Boy George lullingly sings “Karma Chameleon” to the massive crowd. Then, Toronto takes to the stage, the site of World Pride in 2014, and has some famous (or kind-of-famous) Canadians take the stage. Remember “I Wear my Sunglasses at Night?” That happened. And then the always-impeccable Deborah Cox performs her hits. While the crowd desperately waits her final few songs, a stage manager and the host of the whole show come out immediately following a powerhouse performance and reminds the crowd just who was in charge. “Are you done?” the man says to Deborah, and she gracefully walks off the stage at promptly 6:00 P.M.

While there were no officially sanctioned parties in Soho, it is hard to keep Londoners from a good night out. The streets swelled anyway and despite the tumultuous beginning it ended up doing just what it was meant to do in the first place—rally the LGBT community. If anything, it taught us that pride doesn’t have to be an oversized spectacle, but a celebration of how far we have come and a reminder of how far we need to go. As Tatchell said to the crowd: “The corporate commercial aspect is much less this year, thank heavens…We have gone back to the roots of the original gay pride march in 1972.”

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