Pride starts on the Inside

London Pride: an essential beacon to the populace, queer, straight, closeted and curious that GAY IS OK, that we are proud to be who we are, to love who we love and shag who we shag.  Pride is also a powerful statement that SEX is ok, worth celebrating and enjoying, free of shame and guilt that hung around it for so long.  The original Gay Liberation Front vision in the 1970s sought sexual liberation for all.

Pride has been through a roller coaster journey in its 43 years.  At first it had a strong political agenda, seeking to change deep seated prejudices in society.  Numbers swelled in the 1980s as our young gay culture came under attack from the Tories and from HIV.  We took to the streets and our after parties grew in size.  I first got to Pride in 1986 when the festivities took place on the South Bank, in Jubilee Gardens.  It soon moved to Kennington Park, Clapham Common, Brockwell Park, out east to Victoria and up north to Finsbury Park by which time the commercial drive behind Pride seemed to be ravenously taking over from the community feeling.  I remember Pride in Finsbury Park was a flat affair, swamped by advertising, leaflets and sponsors.  Outside the walls of the Pride encampment, an unofficial queer free party, attracted many who were just sickened by the whole thing and made the point that we don’t need corporations and security to have a good time.

Gradually the lesson was learnt, big park parties stopped and the call for a community spirit grew, with Trafalgar Square becoming the new focus of post parade activity, plus stages and street parties throughout Soho.  2012 saw the World Pride fiasco, where the limited thinking and ambition of the long serving organising committee was revealed.  The community rallied however, and turned out in huge numbers, fired up and feeling some passion.  It felt like we were doing more than showing off how hot and happy we are, there were deep emotions going on.  We showed we cared about Pride!  The floats were cancelled because the funds were not there to pay for barriers and police – hooray!  The result was the parade was not contained within barricades, there was freeflow between marchers and spectators, and a great atmosphere.  There have been attempts to inject politics and spirituality into the Trafalgar Square proceedings, but pop music and entertainment dominate, and Pride indeed must be a celebration as well as a powerful statement.  The rainbow spirit fills the west end, smiling people of all races, faiths and ages share a day of positive vibrations ……Soho itself gets seized by masses of inebriated queers… intense and messy, not necessarily the best poster to the world of our happy gay liberty, it can feel a bit like entering a war zone….

Nor are the numbers of drug casualties and mental health crises  doing much for our image. But at Pride we present our shiny, happy face to the world – the only thing is – that face seems now to be have been taken over by the acne of corporate capitalism once again.  The sponsorship may not be so blatant any more, but now the corps are marching with us.  I can not get why people would choose to spend their Gay Christmas marching under a Barclays Bank banner … unless they want to be sure to be seen by everyone, for .. guess what.. Barclays are marching at the front of the parade, right behind the flagbearers and the London Gay Symphonic Winds.  Peter Tatchell has to follow on a few paces back, and behind him come Switchboard, Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, THT…. surely these important community organisations deserve to walk in front of any banks that wish to be there.   Tax avoidlng Starbucks get to lead the next section of the parade, then further back in the lineup there will be a section where banks and businesses aplenty will be represented. Presumably Barclays and Starbucks are paying sponsorship money to get such positions in the lineup, and yes we know Pride needs money.  But frankly, this situation is dark and rather creepy.  These corporations have no relevance to gay life, to our struggle and our liberty. 

Meanwhile, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, celebrating their 30th anniversary and the success of the recent movie telling their story, had been billed as leading the parade, but are now placed much further back with other political groups.  Money to the fore, social causes and caring for people – take the rear.

For a moment it seemed that UKIP were going to take a place on the parade (they have now been turned away by the committee), leading Dan Glass and the London ACT-UP crew to announce the death of Pride: “We will remember Pride as a beautiful, cheeky and daring soul who stood up for firmly held principles and beliefs. Pride was never scared to be fabulously rebellious and because of this inspired millions of people across the world to act up for justice. Like many truthful spirits in the modern age, Pride was attacked by the epidemic of soulless commercialisation and suffered deep amnesia and rapidly deteriorating social and emotional awareness. Signs of ill-health were first detected in approximately 1990 with signs of a nasty rash creeping over the entire body – covering it with glossy stamps and advertisements which destroyed Pride’s beautifully diverse features.”

The proud horse is not totally dead yet though: the mix up of different groups on the Parade is actually pretty awesome.  Alien Sex Club and Anal Angels will be walking in the same section as Fujtsu, MIcrosoft, Virgin Media and Houses of Parliament.  With all kinds of care professions, faith groups, gay clubs and of course the armed forces, Gay Pride parade is incredibly ground breaking in its rainbow diversity, showing the whole of society united in a positive cause.  Unfortunately it is also a bit fixated with the idea of pre-registered groups being the only ones allowed to march in the parade.  The Pride website bizarrely says that “Individuals and spectators cannot join the Parade. Only registered groups are allowed to join the Parade, and registrations closed on Friday 15 May.”  Is an individual who wishes to join the march going to be turned away if they don’t have a group to join?  The site says that ‘spectators’ may join at the end of the organised sections, but those ‘individuals’ don’t get another mention.

PRIDE COMES BEFORE A FALL, says the old adage.  AIDS was one such fall – teaching us the hard way that unbridled libido has unwanted consequences.  Reading the lengthy list of diverse groups registered to march (the Faeries are not on the list, this structured bureaucratic approach to a love parade doesn’t really work for us) it feels like Pride may be getting bloated.  All this bright and cheery bravado stands in stark contrast to the reality that thousands of gay men young and old in this city are hooked on chemicals, chasing sex, taking health risks, perhaps because they do not feel part of any COMMUNITY, they do not want or are not able to fit into any GROUP.   There is such a wild brew of drug cocktails and sexual promiscuity going on in our city that who knows if a crisis bigger even than AIDS isn’t building.

Being gay is absolutely NOT about fitting into the heteronormative model of life – look what a mess they have made of the world!  Coming Out is a step on the path of self-discovery.  That is a spiritual search.  It has nothing to do with banks, coffee shops, computer companies, oil companies.  It MAY have something to do with the military (in ancient Thebes the soldiers were lovers, in India the effeminate, peacock god Lord Murugan is also the god of war, and throughout history from Alexander the Great onwards many great military men have been queer).  As we approach the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of gay sex in the UK in two years time there is sure to be plenty of questioning and heart searching about gay life.  Yes we are proud to be gay… but we need a healthy debate about the kind of gay culture we wish to create in the 21st century.  Do we want a culture that plays along with the patriarchal, military-industrial complex, which has given us marriage and adoption rights to encourage us to stay in the game, and keeps us medicated on dangerous libido enhancing chemicals and separated in our lonely bedsit drug dens (it makes sure that responsible, conscious and spiritual use of drugs can not be promoted by keeping harsh, archaic laws in place).  Or might we aim towards a CONSCIOUS QUEER CULTURE THAT CELEBRATES THE MYSTERY OF BEING ALIVE AND THE MANY WAYS WE CAN EXPLORE THAT MYSTERY, FIND OUT WHO WE ARE, WHAT OUR GIFTS AND TALENTS ARE AND HOW WE CAN BRING THEM TO THE WORLD IN ORDER TO CREATE A WORLD BUILT ON LOVE AND COMPASSION, ON PEACE AND DIVERSITY. 

Or are we just like the macho patriarchs after all?  We got our freedom, are we now just going to party til it kills us, are we going to become good model citizens with kids and debts… or are we going to critique and change this world and its corrupt and unfair ways… and so bring the light of the rainbow that is our symbol divine to a world desperate for peace.  As anyone who has entered the spiritual journey learns, to change the world you have to change yourself.  I think we should thrust a gay agenda on the world – and that it should be self-knowledge, self-discovery and self-expression for all.  Gay culture celebrates good times, but misses the point that those good times come when we find out, claim and express who we are – and this operates on every level of our being, from the sexual to the social to the spiritual.  Pride in who we are starts on the inside, but gay culture is fixated on the external, the material and the superficial.  I cannot march at Pride this year.

Faith and Spirit at PRIDE LONDON: in the Zone

There will be a FAITH AND SPIRITUALITY tent at Pride 2013, situated in the top north eastern corner of Trafalgar Square, near to St Martin in the Fields. A touch of queer sacred space in the middle of the celebrations. Prayers, chants, meditations from the world’s traditions will happen at certain times and there will be space to chat with spiritual queers from various backgrounds. A crew of healers will be around offering various activities or just mingling.

Pride 2012 was rich in emotion. Fierce determination and anger marched alongside pride and joy. We felt like a community making a statement, not simply showing off. (Hedonistic revelry was not much in evidence, there being no floats for dancing gogos to strut on). Trafalgar Square and the west end buzzed like a neon rainbow nation festival. All races, all ages, all sexualities swirling around together smiling and laughing in the sunshine. In our multi-coloured spectacular we turned the centre of the city into a zone of unconditional loving acceptance and highly charged celebration of life’s diversity.

Taking a few steps out of the queer zone towards the tube at tottenham court road the colour scheme changed. Grey and blue, black and white took over from the rainbow extravaganza, as I headed home there was a gradual shift to a less relaxed reality where faces were not smiling, glares were sometimes intense and guards were up.

Pride is a political and social action, vital over the years in the struggle to secure freedoms and equality for the non-heteronormative minority, but also celebrating life’s spectacular diversity as more supporters have become involved.  Pride is VITAL NOW because there are parts of the world where it seems we are still so feared and misunderstood that our celebrations are banned and our self expression repressed.

Pride is also a spiritual statement – we gather as a tribe to celebrate our lives, opening our hearts and letting our spirits shine. We pump joy into the world, spreading those ‘good vibes’ even conservative parts of society like us for now……. When we gather at Pride we celebrate the right of all people to love whom they choose, the right to be safe in expressing who they are, and of course we also celebrate the glories of the body and the pleasures it can give us. These are profoundly spiritual statements from a people that has no church, though maybe the glitter ball is our symbol for divinity, gracing the centre of the dance floors that have been our haven even when the outside world continues to hate.   The glory we take in sexuality and the body does not have to cut us off from spirituality – in fact it shakes the religious establishments to the core, as centuries of denial and repression of natural sexual energies are exposed, with all the secrecy and corruption that has gone with it.  Sexuality was once understood as profound spiritual expression by ancient cultures and that knowledge is still avaialbable to us today.  In an age when sex is largely commodified most of us yet know that it can open the doors to heaven.

Despite the adversities in our lives, we are a portion of humanity that always likes to party.  Could it be that we queers are here to teach the rest of the world how to lighten up and enjoy life!?! How to love, how to play, how to accept each other, how to face the taboos, how to remember that life is a precious sacred gift, and enjoy it. Edward Carpenter, Walt Whitman, Harry Hay are amongst those who thought so, and dared to say it.

The homophobia still acting out in the world is usually justified with religious references. Although much of the religious world has moved to accept queers, with flocks often way ahead of shepherds, and although the monotheistic religions have dumped almost all the arcane rules from the book of leviticus, an angry and violent minority insist on the righteousness of their hatred for us, and demand the right to discriminate against us. In the West, the socio-cultural fear and dislike of us has reduced vastly over a few decades – though not gone by any means – but in african and middle eastern cultures there is still deep ingrained conditioned hate against us. Also in eastern Europe and Russia. Typical homophobes, these cultures need to look at their own homosexual history, of which there is plenty.

But faith, spiritual love and transcendence are not the preserve of the uptight and fearful. Far from it. Religion is actually about re-connecting to the divine source, and celebrating it. Religious rites are various kinds of celebration intended us to connect us to love, light and joy. Queers do appear to be particularly drawn to explore joy and love, we put a lot of energy into seeking blissful connection, and, whatever paths we choose to walk along, we usually find it. From the disco to the sauna to the yoga mat, faerie circle, tantra workshop, or religious service we are all finding the delight of connection to something greater than our individuality. One of our greatest heroes is called Divine, because that’s the gay secret – life is DIVINE, designed to be enjoyed compassionately, guilt free and erotically!

The rainbow celebration of pride brings the whole world together, at least those who are ready to get over their fear based bigotry and prejudice. Queers really don’t care so much about the differences, we celebrate them. We see so much more in common between people – like the love they seek and share and bring to the world. The creativity, the healing, the laughter, the art, the joy. These things count more to us than the stock markets. Life’s quality is measured from the heart. It is my belief that religions serve a purpose in human evolution but our understanding of god and spirit evolves over time, just as our understanding of everything else. Once we saw god as the mother, or as the sun, or we believed in many gods all around us, then we came to see god as a demanding father figure in the sky and became alienated from him. We noticed that religion does more to control us than liberate us. The way to break free if religion has left a bitter taste is to follow its original message. Love. Closing our hearts closes down our lives. We were born to be gay, ie happy –  for which we need an open heart. Love opens us and can lead us to profound discoveries about life, if we let it.  Spiritual teachers across the world have taught that love is god.

As all the world’s philosophies and faiths mingle and interact certain profound truths shine forth. From looking for god in the sky, or in sub atomic particles, there is increasing understanding among the spiritually sincere that God is found within. There is not one religion that doesn’t say it, but they hide it.  Jesus advised the Kingdom can be found within ourselves. Medieval Christians who said this got into trouble, but it is what every person who turns inwards in meditation finds.  It is through we humans that divine qualities enter into the world, or diabolical ones – we are the channels, created as Genesis tells us ‘male and female in His image’ ie transgendered from the start, everyone of us. It is a queer universe.

But it’s time to focus less on religion and more on the divinity of who we each are, every one of us a creative, joy-seeking love-tastic embodiment of LIFE, of the divine LOVE SUPREME itself. Thousands of pride goers will be participating in a gay day of love and joy, shining as they bring out the best of themselves – whatever they believe about the philosophy of life, they are spreading the love. That is what changes the world.

At the heart of gay pride queer sacred space will honour the power of this moment. I wish to pray for the fear of our kind to cease, and the whole world, us included, to see ourselves for the whole and holy, loving and compassionate, playful and ecstatic beings we really are, deserving of every joy, every deep feeling and wonder available to human nature. Please come join us in the Zone.

And in case the anti-gay christian brigade turn up better have the nail varnish, LIPPY and hairspray ready. Let’s remind them the whole of life is really GOD IN DRAG.