Comment: London’s WorldPride? It’s really WorldShame

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With less than nine days before the centre piece of the World Pride celebrations are due to take place in the heart of London, organisers have had to grossly cut the day of International celebration and activism for Global LGBT Equality that was due to take place.

As a former Associate Director of Pride London, who was involved with the bid for the London WorldPride Event I can’t say I’m all that surprised, but what you might be surprised to hear is that the planning for this started almost five years ago.

We are at a point where the official festival fortnight has already begun and in little over a week, thousands will be making a national or international commute to London with nothing to see and nowhere to go beyond that of an ordinary Saturday night out in Soho. It’s a travesty for the UK’s LGBT Tourism and Hospitality industry, and a despicable wasted opportunity for the International LGBT Rights movement.

The truth is the world is focussing on London in 2012: Jubilee Celebrations and Olympics were all known about, and seen as bonus points when the Trustees attended the InterPride Conference in Canada in 2008 to bid to host WorldPride at Pride London, and Pride London have proved ‘they couldn’t organise a…’, I think you know the rest.

Pride London’s press statement failed to apologise or even acknowledge the difficulties they have now put both the charities and community groups that were planning to take part in WorldPride in.

Many at time of writing probably still blissfully unaware that the plans for scores of volunteers and attendees they were planning to bring to London for the event will now, with less than nine days to go, have to be scrapped or significantly altered. Cost of hiring and preparing floats and costumes just written off, and the chance for significant campaigning and fundraising destroyed.

However, the cost to individuals will also be significant: train, coach and air travel, plus inflated pre-Olympic room hire to attend an event that no longer is really happening can run into the hundreds. One of my friends tweeted to tell me how he has paid out £100 out to get London and back again from Lancaster to take part in WorldPride, but due to the parade start times now changing from 1pm to 11am, for no fathomable reason, his tickets to London is now unusable.

Pride London have chosen to blame the UK economic climate. This week, Madrid will be putting on a bigger and better Pride and given their national economic circumstances, it is insulting to our intelligence, that they really think they can palm this off on the economy.

The Trade Unions and the GLA have always traditionally made up the lion’s share of funding for London’s Pride event, and high profile sponsors such as Tesco, BA, Coca-Cola and Smirnoff have all been sponsors in recent years. The issue is that Pride London is a disgrace, both politically and commercially. The Barclaycard-sponsored Trafalgar Square stage centres around drag queens and the highlight is someone called Deborah Cox. Don’t worry I couldn’t work out who she was either, without Googling. Compare that with Sydney Mardi Gras that had Kylie and Rome that played host to Lady Gaga, who has London had in recent years? Scooch.

But that could almost be forgiven if there was real focus on politics, creating discourse and driving LGBT Human and Civil rights both in the UK and internationally. The political element of Pride London has in my opinion been dead for years, and to be frank, I’m sick of seeing the tired campaigns framework I drew up for Pride more than four years ago still being quoted verbatim with no real activity, or keeping pace with the National or LGBT Rights movement.

The most hotly debated issue of 2012 for LGBT Human and Civil rights both in the UK and beyond has been the question of same-sex marriage, and Pride London has been conspicuously quiet about it, in fact they haven’t put out anything at all of political note other than giving an award to Hillary Clinton. Whoop-de-doo.

Poor leadership is what lead us into this situation, and wholesale change is the only way in which we’ll resurrect Pride going forward. It’s not like London is devoid of either LGBT commercial events, or activism. Events such as LoveBox Sundays, the infamous Clapham Street party, BFI’s Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and even the GMFA Sports Day all come together to make our community, but what a successful event needs to do is draw all of these elements together, as a community that celebrates difference, but also unites.

Pride should remain a charity that fights for rights, but it should also give back to its community like Manchester and Brighton Pride, who both award grants to local community groups.

Its commercial element should not be self-serving but create vital funds to support those charities that help LGBT kids, elders, and those facing difficulties around the myriad of issues that we still face as a community.

It should be a strong voice that speaks up and defends the rights of our community not just here in the UK but around the World, but most importantly it has to be rooted in a belief that LGBT rights are human rights.

It shouldn’t divide us from our heterosexual counterparts, it should unite us, and invite them to see how we as a community collectively contribute to wider society. Then, and only then, will we have an event that is truly worthy of calling itself Pride.

James-J Walsh was an associate director of Pride London until 2009 and is now campaign co-ordinator for Out4Marriage.