Normally, when UKIP makes the news in a case of mind-boggling stupidity—particularly when it’s related to LGBT rights—we can be sure that it’s UKIP members or supporters who are to blame. This time, it’s not. This time, the London Pride organisers messed up.
For those of you who haven’t been following the story, LGBT In UKIP illegally joined the London Pride parade. The thing is, they had good reason to. Their application to be in the parade had been accepted, yet soon after, an online petition took off protesting their invitation. Within a week, the LGBT In UKIP invitation was rescinded with the organisers citing, not political reasons, but safety. Yes, you read that correctly. Of all the offensive reasons to rescind an invitation, the organisers chose safety.
Unfortunately, the organisers didn’t have a lot of choice when it came to picking a reason for the rescission. Up until 2012, the event was organised by the charity Pride London. However, since 2013, it’s been organised by the community interest company London LGBT+ Community Pride. It’s more than just a name change, as this paragraph in the Board of Directors’ statement on the debacle makes clear:
As a Community Interest Company we are not allowed to be Party political, our role is simply an enabling one – to create an event that allows different parts of the LGBT+ community to promote themselves, their work and the causes they are passionate about; we have to be very careful about making decisions that imply support for any specific campaign. Our legal status, whether to move to become a charity, is something that will be discussed after Pride this year.
The organisers were simply unable to make a party political decision—although we have to suspect that, actually, they did. Which begs the question, should prides be political?
There’s no denying their political history. Originally annual protest marches, after Stonewall they were renamed “pride parades” and moved to on or around the riot’s anniversary (28th June). Later, June was selected as LGBT Pride month in acknowledgement of Stonewall. London Pride has maintained the trappings of that political history, with the 2015 event held on the 27th June.
Yet should it be political now? Pride London kept the political tone, holding a rally in Trafalgar Square after the Parade ever since it first began running London Pride in 2004. In London Pride 2015, however, Trafalgar Square boasted only stalls, traders, and a concert. Some people would argue that this is only fitting, given that gay marriage is now legal in the UK. If equal rights have been gained, is there still a need to be political?
The first argument for a political pride is that there are many places without equal rights. We are not one country in isolation—particularly when international pressure, driven by public opinion, has prevented numerous anti-gay laws and developments. London’s hosting of World Pride in 2012 underlines this.
The second argument is that there are still threats being made against equal rights—coming, in fact, from UKIP. They were not just the only party to not include commitments to LGBT+ rights in their manifesto for the 2015 General Election; they actually promised to reduce them. Admittedly, they have ruled out attempting to repeal gay marriage because it wouldn’t be fair to “un-marry couples”. That didn’t stop them, in the UKIP Christian Manifesto, from boasting of their previous opposition to the legislation and stating that they would “extend the legal concept of ‘reasonable accommodation’ to give protection in law to those expressing a religious conscience in the workplace on [the issue of same-sex marriage].” Farage refused to clarify or provide examples of what this could mean, yet the murky wording leaves it open to LGBT+ people being refused service. While the possibility of UKIP’s commitments becoming a reality are highly improbable, the LGBT+ community shouldn’t be forced, via London Pride, to seemingly condemn them.
Additionally, having equal rights is not the same as equality. A disproportionately large number of LGBT+ people are still vulnerable or victimised because of their sexuality or gender identity. Younger people and trans people are particularly vulnerable to this. Stonewall’s The School Report 2012 notes that homophobic bullying in schools is “endemic”, 41% of affected LGBT+ youths have considered suicide as a result of it, and 60% of those affected report that teachers never intervene. In 2013, Galop found that 12.5% of LGB people experience hate crime annually, while the figure is 75% for trans people. When three-quarters of a sub-section of society experience hate crime every year, the fight for equality is far from over.
Changing people’s attitudes towards LGBT+ people remains crucial to ensuring actual equality rather than just equality on paper. Now while the numerous homophobic and transphobic comments by UKIP councillors, candidates, and media cannot be seen as representative of UKIP policies, let’s not forget that when David Silvester blamed storms on gay marriage, the initial party response was:
It is quite evident that this is not the party’s belief but the councillor’s own and he is more than entitled to express independent thought despite whether or not other people may deem it standard or correct.
In other words, we’re not homophobic, but if our councillors want to be, that’s okay.
UKIP eventually changed their mind and suspended Silvester—after he ignored orders to stay quiet and an online petition calling for his suspension was signed by 28,000 people. So to review: UKIP can be forced to backtrack on LGBT+ issues if they’re faced with a public relations nightmare.
Which is why London Pride’s ability to be party political is so important. Being part of the parade is a public relations boost for many organisations, so if UKIP weren’t invited to be in the Parade—much like how BNP and EDL weren’t—it would be understandable. Who wants to see UKIP defending themselves as LGBT-friendly while also pushing to legalise discrimination against LGBT+ people on religious grounds?
Yet to rescind an invitation on the basis of safety is purely ridiculous; London Pride should never have been organised by a community interest company. Let’s hope that in 2016, changes will have been made.