“We’re here, we’re queer, we can’t afford the beer”… the ticket price, or the time off work… Bank holiday weekend in Manchester, and Pride rolls in to fence off the “village”, colour everything (even the Union Jack) various shades of pink, and rake in ridiculous amounts of money.
In fact Manchester Pride deals in staggering amounts of money, with ticket prices at £15, making an income of £803,000 in 2007, and that’s not even to mention the millions made by the bars and venues inside of the barriers (for more detailed numbers see www.prideisaprotest.org).
Manchester Pride has long prided (no pun intended) itself on being a charitable, not-for-profit organisation, with a history of raising money for charities such as the George House Trust. However, closer examination raises some questions. In 2000, when the event was free, some £105,000 was given to charity. In 2007, when tickets cost up to £18, only £95,000 was given to charity. Why? This “discrepancy” has sparked a growing wave of discontent with Manchester Pride.
But that’s not the only source of discontent. The whole set up is unaccountable, undemocratic and business-like.
For many years Pride was run by a company called Marketing Manchester (essentially the Manchester tourist board) under various different names and guises but always handing the money over to Marketing Manchester. Since then, Manchester Pride has become a registered charity and organisation of its own. But dig deeper and what do you find — that the current chair of Manchester Pride is in fact the Chief Executive of Marketing Manchester!
All this could lead anyone to believe that Pride is not indeed anything to do with LGBTQ politics, yet the history of Pride around the world is that of fighting prejudice and for rights. Stonewall was a riot, the reaction of a community continually repressed by brutal policing and explicitly discriminatory laws. It seems to be wishful thinking to see this reflected in events in Manchester over bank holiday weekend.
Yet a group of activists around the Queer Youth Network, Manchester University Student Union LGBTQ group and Pride is a Protest amongst others have consistently been trying to inject politics into Pride — with varying receptions. Last year activists were faced with organisers trying to remove their placards, making it quite clear the message of “pride not profit” was not welcome on the parade.
This year the NUS LGBT campaign/Manchester Student Union entry of “Pride not Profit” into the parade was accepted and, let’s say, tolerated. Activists also organised a “Reclaim the Scene” post-parade free picnic with an open mike, political stalls and discussions. This event attracted a fairly large number and made it clear that there are people unhappy with both the financial tangle and apolitical nature of Pride. It seems that this year’s Pride has taken into account this feeling, even if only to spare the embarrassment suffered last year when activists widely publicised Pride’s attitude to them.
In post-picnic discussions Manchester activists were rightly keen to avoid Pride neutralising their message by incorporating their events into the Pride weekend as an “alternative curiosity”. They planned to ensure that next year Pride should be free and inclusive of all of the LGBTQ community, not just those most profitable to the city’s businesses and tourist board, with LGBTQ rights at the top of the agenda.