Homophobic rainbow garlands: the homocommercialism of Brighton Pride

“Nice cans love!” A guy wearing a rainbow garland just walked past my friend who was holding her and her girlfriends’ can of beer, one in each hand out in front of her chest (the normal way to hold cans of beer).

“Woah… this is Brighton Pride you can’t be making comments like that.” Of course I wasn’t going to let this go. I stopped the guy in his tracks suddenly realising how much bigger he was than me.

“I’ll say what I like you fucking lesbian! Do you know who I am?” Erm no I didn’t know who he was and I didn’t really appreciate being called a fucking lesbian… even if it’s entirely true he said it in a tone that was far from congratulatory.

At this point I may have asked him what he was trying to prove and may have insinuated he must have a small penis he was trying to compensate for. I regret this but I had a few ciders in me and was kind of lost for words in this intimidating confrontation.

“I’ll say what I like you fucking lesbian” he repeated, and then came something I could never have anticipated: “I have made hundreds more women orgasm than you ever could, they’re absolutely soaking wet – they quiver under me!”

Oh my god, gross. What made it worse was the spitting anger in which he said it. Oh, and the rainbow garland still sitting round his neck – he was actually out celebrating Pride.

He stormed off and his girlfriend, also sporting a rainbow garland, came over to me and my friend to apologise – “he’s been doing this all day.” In exasperation, we said thank you for the apology but perhaps she needs to take him home, or at least to a different part of the city, not in the centre of Pride.

“Erm I don’t know what kind of weird things you guys do but I’m here to celebrate Pride!” Oh dear, here we go again. My friend kindly tried to explain that what she was saying was also homophobic. Unfortunately this didn’t go down too well, and she merely repeated the same sentiment until my friend’s girlfriend returned and dragged us away.

We were all left stunned. How had we got to the point where the routine homophobic abuse you get at pride comes from someone actually celebrating it? The only homophobia used to be from Christian choir groups or drunk onlookers, now it’s the people wearing rainbow garlands. In this blog I will describe how the depoliticization, and indeed homophobia, of this rainbow garland has come about directly as a result of the commercialisation of Brighton Pride.

A few years ago they started fencing off both the park and St James’ street party with tall wire fences, security guards, and an entrance fee. Most of us migrated to the Old Steine, where we could still sit in the sun after the march without the feeling that people were trying to make money out of our fight for equality. But it’s been getting worse. This year, even the Old Steine was ringfenced. You were allowed in for free but only if you passed a checkpoint and spent money in the expensive establishments inside. The protest for gay rights has gradually been tamed, renamed, and literally contained.  The poppy-patterned cloth protecting the war memorial made clear where this protest should exist, and where it shouldn’t; because I’m sure there were never any gay soldiers.

Not only has our protest gradually been contained, but it has been rebranded as a festival; a capitalist enterprise for everyone and anyone, whether you support gay rights or not. The march is now a parade. And fewer are the gay rights and HIV charities, the schools campaigning against bullying, and the uplifting floats such as “the only gay bar in Crawley”. Much greater are the floats co-advertising their brands: Tesco, Virgin Holidays, Ford motor cars, Enterprise car share, Roche pharmaceuticals, American Express, Nandos, and EDF energy. My friends argued that maybe they’re just trying to show their employees and users of their services that they are accepting of LGBT rights. But take, for instance, 02, who painted a whole bus which I’m sure they tour round the country throughout summer; there is no mention of gay rights anywhere on their design.

The shop fronts also take advantage of the day. Take a walk through town which is thriving with hungry customers: Wagamama have a specially made rainbow sign for the weekend; GAP have a dancer in the window and a DJ in store; even Sainsbury’s have joined in. But notice that, once again, none of these companies talk about gay rights. They use the euphemistic symbolism of the rainbow flag and talk about “bursting with pride”. If it’s not about gay rights, what are these companies so rainbow-proud of?

The use of the rainbow flag in this way, without mention of gay rights, has brought it into a depoliticised space. The covering of the rainbow flag with Ford, Tesco, and Virgin Holidays has begun to rebrand the rainbow; it is to say that these companies are part of modernity, they are part of the party, and accepting of everyone. It has become a flag of celebration rather than protest. But having this lack of discrimination really does welcome everyone and everything; including the rainbow-proud garland-wearing homophobic festival attendees we met that evening.

In the same way as Tel Aviv Pride has been pinkwashed with Israeli nationalism and anti-Palestine campaigns (Milani & Levon, 2016), Brighton Pride has been pinkwashed with capitalist sentiments and an opportunity for businesses to make money. In doing so they have taken away the meaning of the day, and worked to increase demand through advertising campaigns reminiscent of music festivals. Indeed the website’s Google tagline is “Brighton Pride – the UK’s biggest Pride festival”, and the main focus is the entertainment lined up for the day.

The homocapitalism of Brighton Pride is more than just an acceptance of corporate sponsorship. It is an invitation to (literally) contain the meaning of the campaign and to commodify the experience of being gay to one that is based solely on drinking, partying, and dressing up. In doing so it includes people who actively work against the original meaning of the campaign. Like when I questioned the guy wearing a homemade t-shirt: “I support your right to be gay but not up my arse”. On questioning he went on to tell me that he was “actually a lesbian too” so I could sleep with him. Wonderful. Equally worrying were the gay women I met two years ago who stated they wanted to go down to Dover and “shoot all the migrants”. Even the ones coming here because they would be killed or imprisoned for being gay in their own countries. In containing the meaning and practice of Pride they have opened the protest to just about anyone with any view on homosexuality. But in protesting you have to discriminate between what you think is right and what you think is wrong.

They said they had to start charging for tickets and asking businesses for sponsorship as the cost of the security was too much for the council to pay. But aren’t we forgetting something? Pride is meant to be a protest. It’s a protest against the bullying that still goes on in schools, the shouts we still get on the street, and the people who have been physically and mentally abused for their sexuality. Yes, people still get beaten up for being gay. It’s also to raise awareness that, yes, Brighton might be better than most places, but there are still so many places elsewhere in the UK, across the rest of the world, and indeed on the outskirts of Brighton where we don’t feel safe holding hands. Brighton (LGBT) Pride is supposed to disrupt, it’s supposed to make people notice, not be contained away.

We ended up bumping into another fight consisting of about three straight couples and realised we felt wholly uncomfortable. We went home, ordered pizza, and got high. And that was best part of my Brighton Pride.

 

30 Replies to “Homophobic rainbow garlands: the homocommercialism of Brighton Pride”

  1. It is of course not only Brighton Pride. It’s partly, also, the shift of the meaning of “the personal is political” that goes along with the dangerous and divisive identity (identitarian) politics that are so rampant.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think this was 2017? This year was the very very very worse Pride I have ever been to. The ratio of straight to LGBT was well in favour of straight.

    It’s all so very sad. Every year I have conversations with customers or guys working for me, which usually goes:

    Straight (90% of the time man cos I work in building) Hey, it’s Pride, we’re doing blah blah.
    Me: Oh I didn’t know you were Gay.
    Straight: I’m not!
    Me: Ok … so, well .. it’s GAY Pride.
    Straight: slight squirm .. erm .. yes but it’s a great day.
    Me: Really? So, how is it different from any other day for you?
    Straight: big squirm … well, the parade .. er …
    Me: Ok, so I am NOT the person to tell you are going to Pride. I think it is for Gay people to show that they will not be shut up, will not be side lined, will be loud and proud and queer all year. Straight people going to Pride is like cats going to Crufts. It’s not your day. Its ours.
    Straight: Er .. ok, see you soon ….

    Then I am apparently radical, old fashioned etc. I don’t understand how lucky I am that they don’t mind me being a lesbian, oh and the BBC were kind enough to clarify what the ‘event’ was this year; reporting on the chaos at the train station they explained ‘many people decided not to travel after the Britney Spears gig’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why can’t straight people celebrate gay pride? What if their families/friends/loved ones are gay, are straight people supposed to just sit at home, why can’t they come out and show their support too?

      Isn’t that what you want, more support and equality from everyone on the spectrum? Then stop excluding those trying to help your cause.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Heya,

        I think it’s great if straight people support the cause – I am not criticising that at all. I’m criticising people who come to ‘celebrate’ who are 1) are actually homophobic or 2) purely celebrating and not actually talking about/campaigning about the issues that still affect lgbt people. Thanks for taking the time to comment though and please do keep campaigning for lgbt rights if that’s what you’re doing! Hannah

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Which part did you miss and then completely miss the point. ? It isn’t about whether straight people who know any LGBT come. It’s about the fact many who are coming now are coming for a party and haven’t a clue what Pride is about . On top of that they are abusing the LGBT community. Do I need to say that slowly for you?

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      3. It’s not a problem for straight people to celebrate Pride. No one has said that here. It is a problem when straight people supposed to be celebrating are being homophobic and abusive/violent to the queer people there. They aren’t exactly helping the cause, to put it mildy.

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      4. I completely understand straight people going to support their loved ones… what I don’t understand are the straight ones with the homophobic comments / attacks. The ones that only go there for “a good day out” but any other day gay bash either verbally or physically if given the chance.
        But my friends mum goes to support her daughter, my sister is in the parade every year to support her family members etc that is okay… they are no threat. The people in the rainbow garlands verbally abusing gay and lesbian community is what the LGBTU+ community is protesting against.

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      5. I don’t think the problems highlighted in this article are aimed at straight people supporting Pride at all! I believe the points mentioned are solely to do with the commercialization of gay rights, alongside those who are homophobic attending and spreading their aggression.

        Big love and support to those who attend for the right reasons, whether part of the LGBT community or just a supporter, all are welcomed. However, clearly alongside depoliticization comes those who do not understand the proper cause and reasoning for the occasion.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I think that’s exclusionist. Everybody should be able to celebrate gay rights or protest a lack of them.

      The fact that we have empathy and a pluralistic, open society allows minorities to gain rights.

      I’m Scottish. I wouldn’t resent you celebrating a Scottish festival or advocating some form of Scottish rights. You’re entitled to your view and I’d be happy that it was supportive.

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    3. I agree with what has been said . The extra amount of people that were there to see Britney and not celebrate Pride made this a very stressful and difficult Pride -also unsafe , especially as a wheelchair user where on Sat we had to queue for hrs to get into the viewing platform. As security appeared to have let all and sundry in to the extent that disabled people had to leave their chairs to walk to the toilet as they. Pulsing get their chairs out and there were people sitting in any space . It wss unsafe and I was very disappointed. No shade , no water given out in this exceptionally hot weather and a lack of staff to help .
      You couldn’t help but notice how commercial it’s bevome and it’s disappointing to not see more small LGBTQ organisations as the big businesses were running the show .
      We don’t experience go to a Pride and face homophobia . Report them !
      How day they ruin our Gay Pride!
      Bring back more activism , which is how our community started .

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  3. Brighton pride 2018 was a complete nightmare .. too many people , predominantly straight , just an excuse for a piss up ,drug fest , nothing remotely political , corporate to the hilt , a money making adventure to pay a group of people running it fortunes with their CIC status as there excuse to get rich . People that put money into buckets have no idea how much of that money goes towards paying these people crazy wages and ‘running costs’ Brighton was left filthy dirty , many people experienced homophobia , people sneaked into the street party easily one way was through vip pizza , the bar broadway bar had to endure Infinity bar having a bar right outside their doorstep with speakers facing their entrance even though they had a bar on st james street outside and inside , because thats just how greedy and monstrous pride has become Paul Kemp has ruined Brighton Pride and become a millionaire whilst doing so . It needs addressing and investigating as CIC comanies in the UK were not designed to be exploited to make the Directors of them millionaires .There is no community interest in Brighton pride it serves its Directors first and foremost and then Londoners that arrive and wreck the City . Residents in Kemp Town are given wrist bands only when they show their electoral role details so cannot even have friends or family in their own homes or businesses without putting up a fight and begging for more wrist bands , their friends have to pay £20 to visit them if they are not on the electoral role for the address Residents in kemp Town village have to move their cars out and pay for parking elsewhere . It has become a dangerous monster that only serves a few people Directing it and those people have NO care for the community . Their PR would have you believe otherwise It is time for them to go and return Brighton pride to some meaningful roots not the huge mess paul kemp has made it

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    1. Residents in Kemp Town are given wrist bands only when they show their electoral role details so cannot even have friends or family in their own homes or businesses without putting up a fight and begging for more wrist bands , their friends have to pay £20 to visit them if they are not on the electoral role for the address

      I’m a Kemp Town resident and I only had to show any proof of address and a photo ID and I was given four free wristbands and I could also buy as many more as I liked at half price. Where did you get these facts from?

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    2. Just a quick correction to the comment about residents around the PVP area: I am a resident within the PVP area and I thought they handled the event well mostly, although I agree that only 4 wristbands is not enough for some who want to have more than 3 friends attend their home. However, Access only cards were available on proof of resident ID and the resident had to organise these in advance. Your extra visitors didn’t need a wristband but it cost *£10* not £20 if they did. Incidentally, the streets around by me were cleaned ready for the Sunday and were cleaned of all rubbish by Monday morning.

      As to the blog post here, I agree with the points about how commercialisation of gay pride and the rainbow symbol has attracted people who have no concern for equality or anti-discrimination and worse. I saw Peter Tatchell’s protest (important at a time of far right growth) and the BA protest on the parade but they were diminutive in comparison to the big corporate vans – why do people readily want to be a part of that by dancing etc on their vehicles? Who are they? Also I was surprised to see so many foreign students and visitors wearing specially made (sweatshop?) t-shirts from Primark, etc. on Western Road and wrapping themselves up with brand new rainbow flags self-consciously. I wondered how many of these were making a statement of support or just getting involved in “the party”. I did enjoy the atmosphere of celebration, however and the act of closing the roads is a triumph of its own.

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  4. Trip Advisor Brighton Pride.

    Mostly consisting of London wankers, looking to take a photo with a nice sparkly rainbow gay and to pour some glitter down their pants, completely missing the point of Pride altogether, duely leaving their piss, puke, shit, broken bottles of Lambrini, nos cannisters and detritus behind like the snapped 99p pride flags that slipped out the front of their Primark basic range knickers.

    4/10 – Britney apparently turned up. I liked the balloon dragon during the parade.

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  5. Why did you choose to reference Tel Aviv Pride from one extremely biased report, where Jews and Arabs celebrate together? It was irrelevant to your piece and the only country you singled out. Go to a Pride in Tel Aviv and see for yourself what a wonderful diverse event it is .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been to Pride in Tel Aviv and it’s its actually not diverse, the Arabs you see are Jewish (considering that the vast majority of Arab nations nor Palestinians are not even allowed in the country. Then the cast system is quite visible: you only see Beta Jews (black jews) cleaning the streets after the European and Arabs jews litter the street with pinkeashinh brands, normalize war and occupation. It’s funny to think that in the same year that I was in Israel during Tel Aviv pride, in Jerusalem several people got stabbed by an Hasidic leading to the death of a young girl.
      Commodification of queer politics happens everywhere and the write used the Israeli example as being one of the biggest prides in the world that is also renowned for being completely propangadist of the Zionist agenda. Pride should be something else.

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  6. My favourite moment of 2018 pride? Sitting on the beach with my girlfriend, admiring the sunshine on the calm sea. Then from behind, a shower of stones, and again a minute later, hitting my hip. I turned around to see two sniggering teenage girls, both wearing rainbow badges, sat slightly apart from their friendship group. I got up and asked them calmly why they were throwing stones at my girlfriend and I, to which they responded “Chill oooout man, it’s Priiiiide”, the rest of their mates squirming and looking slightly embarrassed. I sat back down, hoping that they would have realised how idiotic it is to stone a lesbian couple on the beach in Brighton, at Pride. No such luck. They continued to throw stones, I continued to tell them to stop, until we eventually walked away, stones landing in our footsteps as we left. I thought we must be invisible, the other groups of sunbathers were clearly listening to the altercation but did everything they could to avoid meeting our eyes. Sure, neither of us were hurt, we have no bruises to show, but that’s tainted the rainbow for me.

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  7. Brighton Pride lost its identity this year, it was all about Britney & continuous queueing. I felt there were far too many police present & even the NCA were pulling people out and giving a full body search at the main barrier. The bus joyrney to and from the camp site was horrendous. People shouting at the top of their voices for the whole journey and the driver does nothing. We have been coming to Brighton For the past 20 years. Even the parade looked somber. Next year we are going to try Amsterdam flights & Hotel are cheaper than 2 nights in Brighton.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sad times. I’m a white, straight man and usually attend Pride with an idea that it is not exactly my day but I am there in support of my LGBT+ sisters, brothers and others.

    I was out in Canal Street in Manchester a few years ago and that scene has been largely ruined by a load of straight pissheads, it is pretty embarrassing all in all.

    I am afraid that the long struggle for true acceptance has many more hurdles.

    PS. Not to defend corporates at all as I cannot stand them but in fairness to Wagamama they have the rainbow colours all year, not just the weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. We didn’t go this year (2018), we intended to, as a neurodiverse family with a 11 year old who identifies as gay or bi (he isn’t sure, but he has tons time to figure that) we were super excited to attend, we home Ed just out of Brighton and have spent a large portion of time working on LGBTQ+ history, Pride History and Stonewall. Ultimately heat stopped us, 3 ND kids in that heat wasn’t gonna work.
    Getting on the train the next day we did notice it was full of 20 something’s who were talking loudly about the fact they went just to get drunk/high/see Brittney, some were discussing how they got hit on by someone of same gender or trans and it was disgusting, I wanted to shout ‘your missing the point’.
    It strikes me as so sad, it is just seen as a giant party now, the history, hard won fight and the fact some people live in fear for their lives for loving as their heart intends, all forgotten 😦
    Walking round Brighton today I can see exactly what you mean about the commercial aspect 😦 it’s not a party! It’s a celebration and a safe space, it’s horrific people are slowly eroding that

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I didn’t really get the Paddy Power float.
    From what I took it to mean it appeared sinister. It came past almost like a ghost ship. And didn’t really fit the carnival atmosphere in my opinion.

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    1. As a Rugby player i thought it was a brilliant protest piece.

      Football needs to change to allow players to openly be themselves. How, with thousands of professional football players, are there no non-straight players? Its a statistical anomaly and its not right.

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  11. Capitalism commodifies everything; I’m unsure of why exactly you think queer politics would be sacrosanct. If your beef is with the way that the wage machine turns everything into a horrible commercial dollarfest, then maybe you should give us some info on how exactly you are fighting the machine… It sounds like when everything else was commodified but the rainbow, you were likely quite quiet…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. What summer but up for me how badvits become was putting the community village tucked away behind the tennis courts with only one sign .my last Brighton pride in think. Amsterdam next year

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