By Faz Velmi
Rainbow flags adorned every building in the vicinity of Canal Street, Manchester's famous gay village as tens of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people descended on the city. This year Manchester's Pride celebrations over the August Bank holiday would be even bigger than usual, as it hosted the "official" European Pride event. "Europride" was not just the usual hedonism because along with the partying there was the rare opportunity to discuss politics within the LGBT community.
Indeed there is a lot to discuss and assess at this time when legal equality seems to be on the horizon. The official programme included a number of political meetings, with the main event being a one-day conference, entitled "A new agenda for equality for Lesbians and Gay men"sponsored by Manchester City council.
The conference was aimed at sharing "good practice" and was a thoroughly corporate affair, with no real opportunity to debate and address the real issues facing LGBT people. It proved to be a very good example of the political terrain on which LGBT issues are now discussed.
Long gone are the days when LGBT activists talked about liberation, transforming society and taking on the establishment, These days a strata of the LGBT community have become the establishment. With gay MPs, gay police officers and gay entrepreneurs showing how they have "made it", being co-opted into mainstream society is now the thing to be aiming for.
Where the Gay Liberation Front of the 70s and the political activists of the 80s talked about direct action, these days, Stonewall the "official" LGBT group is more likely to talk about sipping cappuccinos with New Labour Ministers as the best way to secure equality . And a job-the former head of Stonewall, Angela Mason now has a cushy job at the Department of Trade and Industry. (Ironically Stonewall takes its name from, The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, where in 1969, a riot ensued as persecuted queers fought back against the police and state victimisation).
Also pervasive was a sickening gratitude to New Labour for the new employment rights legislation due to kick in December this year. This legislation is ridden with loopholes, like giving "religious employers" the right to sack LGBT employees. Besides victories over LGBT rights are not the charitable gestures of New labour, but the fruition of decades of hard work and militancy by a generation of activists.
One such activist is Mike Jackson, who came to Europride to talk about his experiences of setting up "Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners", during the 1984 miners' strike. He talked about the huge impact the group had in tackling and breaking down homophobia, as it organised solidarity with the mining community of Dulais in South Wales. In return the Dulais mining community brought their banner to the London pride of 1985.
The lessons of that particular time; of how LGBT people getting involved in working class struggles can cut through prejudice and change lives, is far removed from the shiny, corporate lobbying that is talked about by Stonewall.
Another interesting meeting was hosted by the George House trust, a North West HIV support charity. Lively debate ensued, as the scandal of multi-national pharmaceuticals companies like Glaxo, placing profit over the needs of millions of people living with HIV was discussed, as well as the racist hysteria being whipped up by the Tories about asylum seekers bringing HIV into the UK. Much was said about the de-polarisation of the LGBT community, and about re-establishing direct action and militancy at the heart of the movement.
Workers' Liberty branch Manchester also held a meeting entitled "Pride not Profit", where activists talked about the prevalence of the "pink pound,"and the exploitation by LGBT capitalists of the community. "Pride', which should be a celebration of sexuality and community and a reminder of how much more there is to fight for, has also become the market where tens of thousands of "pink pounds" are to be made. There was also discussion of the fact that legislative equality is not enough and that the fight for true sexual freedom and liberation is linked to the struggle against capitalism and ultimately working class struggle.
Indeed despite the rampant commercialisation, the massive Pride parade was amazing, as thousands of LGBT people from charities, trade unions and business marched through the city streets. The closing Vigil of Remembrance for those who have died Aids, again brought out thousands of people, and together with the parade was a show of the potential collective strength of the LGBT community; something which will have to be organised and used, in the fight for not just equality, but for liberation and the transformation of society.