FOR DISCUSSION WITHIN THE L/G/B/T COMMUNITY
Presented to Pride (London) Committee and London Mardi Gras on 30 July 1999, and circulated to lesbian and gay community organisations and individuals for consultation and discussion.
MAIN PROPOSALS – A SUMMARY
MARDI GRAS – A SUCCESS?
Mardi Gras 1999 was run by a self-appointed gay business consortium. They justified the heavy commercialisation of the event, claiming it was necessary to ensure financial viability and success. But the truth is that Mardi Gras was not as successful as the last community-run Pride march and festival. Despite its faults, Pride ’97 got nearly 100,000 people on the march and 300,000 at Clapham Common. Mardi Gras, in contrast, had only 25,000 marchers and only 65,000 at Finsbury Park. Mainstream media coverage was down too. Moreover, Mardi Gras made a staggering loss of nearly £ 500,000 (compared to cumulative losses, over several years, of £ 160,000 by Pride ’97).
THE KEY MISTAKES
What went wrong? Mardi Gras was over-commercialised, de-gayed, profit-driven and de-politicised. The 78-page official programme contained only three minor references to it being a lesbian and gay event. There was no sign above the stage at Finsbury Park identifying Mardi Gras as a gay festival or supporting our claim for human rights. Naked commercialism was exemplified by:
These mean-spirited policies killed off the community spirit and loyalty that inspired Pride for 28 years. Not making the 30th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots a centrepiece of Mardi Gras was a lost opportunity for big-time media coverage.
A NEW DIRECTION FOR 2000 & BEYOND
The rebranding of Pride as Mardi Gras should be scrapped. It was imposed without the agreement of the L/G/B/T community. Why copy Sydney and steal from Manchester? Let’s keep the name Pride and be proud of its history – or come up with an entirely new and original name, something unique to London, perhaps incorporating Pride in the title.
The Mardi Gras organisers assume that a private business consortium should run the event. But many of us believe Pride is a L/G/B/T community celebration and should be controlled by the community for everyone’s benefit, not private profit. OutRage! wants the march and festival run by a representative, democratic committee of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community groups, working in partnership with gay businesses and individual lesbians and gays. This community coalition should take the key policy decisions, and appoint professional experts to administer the event.
The Mardi Gras organisation has provided no mechanism for community groups to influence, let alone determine, the content and structure of the festival. In contrast, the Pride (London) March Committee did, at least, hold outreach meetings, which were an attempt at consultation. But they failed, largely because there was a widespread perception that these meetings were, first and foremost, PR exercises, with pre-determined decisions being presented as a fait accompli. Whatever the intention of Pride (London), most people who attended the outreach meetings felt that they were not able to impact on its policies in a meaningful way. Despite this criticism, the potential of Pride (London) is basically sound. Unlike the Mardi Gras organisation, which is a private business venture, the Pride (London) March Committee is a membership organisation that individuals and groups can join, and thereby elect committee members and make policy. At the Pride (London) Open Meeting on 24 July, OutRage! proposed the calling of an Extraordinary General Meeting to elect a new, expanded 12-member March Committee, representing a broad cross-section of the L/G/B/T community. This was agreed by the existing committee, and the EGM is now scheduled for 16 October, with all interested L/G/B/T community groups and individuals being invited to attend. It is our hope that this new March Committee will reflect the diversity of the L/G/B/T community, and command the democratic authority and accountability required to organise a successful, large, high-profile march next year.
OutRage! is also proposing that this reconstituted Pride (London) Committee should seek consultative status with the Mardi Gras organisation, and secure Mardi Gras’s agreement on the holding of monthly consultation meetings to discuss key policy decisions regarding the planning of the festival. This grassroots input is a vital precondition for Mardi Gras to win community confidence and support.
HUMAN RIGHTS AGENDA
The last thing OutRage! seeks is a dull, dour Pride/Mardi Gras. Why can’t we have a combination of fun and politics? Keep the carnival atmosphere, but give our campaign against discrimination a higher profile. Pride/Mardi Gras ought to have a specific human rights theme. This should feature in all advertising and press handouts, on the lead banner on the march, and as a giant slogan above the main stage at the festival. Vague themes such as “Equality Through Diversity”, although well intended, do not work. They are too ill-defined, and offer no news angle for journalists. No wonder media reporting is so poor! Having a very clear, concrete human rights theme would give the event a stronger focus and improve the likelihood of news coverage.
HUMAN RIGHTS THEME FOR 2000
OutRage! suggests that the human rights theme for Pride/Mardi Gras 2000 should be partnership rights. This is an issue with broad appeal within the L/G/B/T community, and it is also one that many heterosexuals can understand and empathise with. Most importantly, it is a fairly new issue. There has been relatively little campaigning around partnership rights in Britain, and Pride/Mardi Gras could be a way of putting it on the public agenda. Because partnership rights would be a fresh campaign, the media are more likely to cover it. And since it is a specific demand, it gives marchers plenty of scope for partnership-related costumes and floats.
FLOATS ON THE MARCH
The police are refusing to allow motorised floats on the march. This ban has to be fought and overturned, as both the Notting Hill Carnival and the Lord Mayor’s Parade have police-sanctioned floats. In the meantime, we can still have hand-pulled floats. We urge the organisers of Pride/Mardi Gras to fund a float workshop to design and build simple, light-weight mobile platforms that can be decorated and hand-pulled on the march by 4 – 6 people. These platforms should be made available free of charge (or for a nominal £ 50) to community groups.
Ideally, the march should go to the festival, so that the two events are fully integrated, with the festival not starting until the march has finished. This reintegration of the march and festival is a difficult objective to achieve, given the limited options for festival sites.
The ultimate festival site is Hyde Park, with the current march route being reversed: starting at Embankment and going to Hyde Park. Under current regulations, the use of Hyde Park would probably preclude the sale of alcohol and many other items normally sold at the festival. Dance tents and fun-fairs would, mostly definitely, be refused. Only the sale of food, soft drinks and some official merchandising would be acceptable to the Hyde Park authorities. This may, of course, change in the future. In recent years, officials at Hyde Park have become a little more flexible about the selling of goods and (very occassionally) alcohol. Using Hyde Park under existing regulations would, therefore, involve a major rethink about the nature of the festival.
A TWO-DAY MARCH & FESTIVAL
One idea is to split the festival into two separate elements on two separate days – the march followed by a new-style, post-march festival in Hyde Park on Saturday, and a more traditional-style, all-day Pride/Mardi Gras festival somewhere like Clapham Common on Sunday. The Saturday events would be run wholly by Pride (London) as a non-profit community celebration, and the Sunday event would be staged by London Mardi Gras in consultation with Pride (London).
SATURDAY MARCH & CONCERT IN HYDE PARK
With a reintegrated march and festival, ending in Hyde Park, the march would start at Embankment and proceed to Hyde Park via Parliament Square, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, and Piccadilly, culminating with “FREEDOM IN THE PARK” – a four-hour concert for L/G/B/T human rights in Hyde Park, from 4 to 8 p.m..
To get the necessary permissions, this festival would have to be non-commercial, community-oriented and branded under a human rights theme. Its success would depend on securing at least one big-name, broad-appeal entertainer, such as Diana Ross, Elton John, Lesley Garrett or George Michael. As well as musical performers, the concert would include human rights speeches from leading celebrities, politicians and community representatives. If this event is organised around a human rights theme, with a wide appeal, it may be possible to avoid commercial charges by Hyde Park officials. However, if they insist on charging for use of the park, the post-march festival may have to be a paid-for event. In this eventuality, to maintain accessibility, ticket prices should be kept to around £ 5, (with corporate sponsorship, advertising, and food, drink and merchandising concessions being used to pay for any shortfall).
To avoid clashing with the annual Prince’s Trust event in Hyde Park, the date of the Saturday march and festival may have to be moved either forward or backward a week.
The following day, Sunday, the more traditional-style Pride/Mardi Gras festival would take place, and be a full day event with a full range of activities, including fun-fairs, dance tents, stalls and so on. It could be held at Clapham Common, Finsbury Park or elsewhere, starting at 12 noon and continuing through until 10 p.m.. By making Pride/Mardi Gras into a two-day event, it would encourage people to come to London from all over the country and all over the world.
MAIN STAGE AT THE MARDI GRAS FESTIVAL
With regard to the line-up on the main stage at the Mardi Gras festival: the main stage has been mostly a one-dimensional, mono-culture of dance music. This excludes and alienates the many lesbians and gay men who don’t identify with that style of entertainment. To be fully inclusive and cater for the diversity of our communities, performances from the main stage need to be more various and wide-ranging. One solution is to bracket the performances into one-hour segments: comedy, pop and classical, each with a different appeal. The main stage staple of disco divas and boy bands is fine, but it could be augmented with opera singers, comedians, pianists, choirs, dancers and chamber orchestras. Those who don’t like whatever is on the main stage at a particular moment can slope off to the fun-fair or to the cabaret, dance or classical tents.
In order to maintain a strong community, non-commercial feel to the festival, it is very important that every hour or so there are brief speeches from celebrities and relevant community representatives on the human rights theme of the year. All stage performers should be asked to say a few words, during song-breaks, in support of the event’s human rights theme.
2000 is the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the lesbian and gay liberation movement in Britain. This was a watershed moment in queer history and consciousness. Veterans from the Gay Liberation Front should lead next year’s Pride March, and speak from the main stage at the Festival.
FOOD & DRINK PRICING
As well as allowing festival-goers to bring their own food and drink, the festival organisers should insist on price limits for drinks, in order to stop unreasonable rip-off charges. This could be achieved by inserting price caps into the contractual agreements with people who take out drink concession licences.
The festival is an important opportunity for L/G/B/T community groups to advertise their activities and fund-raise. For non-profit community groups, stalls should be either free or be available for a nominal price of £ 30.
ACCESS & OPTIONS
The guiding festival principles should be accessibility and inclusivity. It should cater for all sections of our community. This means full disabled access and provision (viewing platform, toilets and so on). It also means tents to cater specifically for women and people of colour, and tents for cabaret and classical music. There should be no “18 and over” age limit on people admitted to the festival (as happened at the Mardi Gras festival this year).
KEEP THE FESTIVAL FREE
If Pride/Mardi Gras is to be a fully accessible community festival, it must be free. People from outside of London spend a fortune on fares. The extra burden of an entry fee is unfair. Charging admission also excludes people on low-incomes. Pride/Mardi Gras should be about community solidarity, not commercialism.
FUNDING THE MARCH & FESTIVAL
Critics of the idea of a free festival are wrong to suggest that it is not financially viable. It could be funded as follows:
Grand total: £1.45 million. With these funds, the festival can be free and Pride/Mardi Gras could even raise money for gay charities.
PRIDE ARTS FESTIVAL
This needs to become a higher profile, more integral part of the Pride/Mardi Gras celebrations. The first priority is to locate all the PAF events in a single big-name, large-capacity venue, such as the South Bank Centre or Bloomsbury Theatre. The second priority is for PAF to act as a showcase for a combination of well known and up-and-coming L/G/B/T performers, with a mix of theatre, song, dance, film, comedy and art.
OutRage! offers these constructive proposals as a contribution to the debate within our community on the future direction of Pride/Mardi Gras. We welcome comments and feedback.
FOOTNOTE – MEETING ON SATURDAY, 16TH OCTOBER
At a public meeting on Saturday, 24th July, the Directors of Pride London agreed to hold a public consultation on the future of the Pride March / Parade.
This will be held in London, on Saturday, 16th October, at a venue to be announced. All L/B/G/T groups and interested individuals are invited to attend. — Membership of Pride costs £ 10, (£ 5 concessions).
FOOTNOTE – MEETING ON FRIDAY, 1st OCTOBER
The “London Mardi Gras Parade Community Forum” is holding its next meeting on Friday, 1st October, from 6 – 8 p.m..
This is open to all L/G/B/T community groups. Any group not having already received an invitation is invited to ring Paul Craig on 020-76.88.01.10 to book places. Disabled access is guaranteed at all meetings.
FOOTNOTE – MANCHESTER MARDI GRAS – A READER’S COMMENT
Now we need to make the same suggestions for Manchester’s event, which was a commercial opportunity, not a real community event. As an ex- Londoner, I found it very disappointing indeed. The parade was entirely composed of motorised floats advertising businesses or groups, but had no section for ordinary individual LGBT people representing themselves in all their personal glory. Thus it is a spectator event, not a participatory one. And since there were no pedestrians with banners, any small group wanting to representing itself had to fork out for a float, and then attempt to be worth looking at, which some just didn’t!
The rest of the weekend was largely directed at young drinkers and clubbers with money – the pledgeband costing £ 8/10. So nowhere did we actually see the whole LGBT community out in all its diversity. And not a shred of political awareness either. It needs to go to a park in the future, so that children can come and run about, and those not interested in drink and dance can picnic instead.
The best part of my weekend was joining in behind an AIDS charity float with a sound system and dancing the last half mile into the Village, followed by an hour or more of drinking Coke (bought at a straight pub not participating in the pledgeband scheme) and people watching in Canal Street. But when I returned for a bit more of this on Monday night, the whole area was screened off and out of bounds to those without Pledgebands. Pledgebands are a good idea, but £ 8 is too expensive. They could cost £ 4/5 if the festival was less ambitious and showy and more a DIY community event.