Pride and Prejudice

In Australia we learn to parade as children. At school we form lines, march and even sing patriot songs. Then there is the military — countless occasions to remember the fallen in so many odd foreign wars. The result being an amazing street choreography for Mardi Gras….

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In 1994 I was 25 and lived on Crown Street, Surry Hills Sydney. A few blocks away from the event this video shows in such fantastic detail. This was the first time the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was televised. I do know it upset some of my conservative family back in Queensland. I did not attend. I was home. But I remember listening to The Birthday Party “It’s a Wild World” and sitting on my balcony watching the incredible crowd swirl below. My interests in those days were purely chemical. It was my birthday and I was probably in an altered state.

In Sydney there was the entire culture that existed within walking distance from the golden mile of Oxford Street, where the Mardi Gras paraded — from Kings Cross to Newtown it was like an adult playground of bars, clubs, theaters, pubs, music venues, warehouses, restaurants, cafes….some pubs never closed (I am thinking of The Court House Hotel in Taylor Square — you can see it in the Mardia Gras video). These areas of the city actually feature in the first Matrix film — the chase scene and Neo talking on the phone at the end. In the background of the chase you see the Hollywood Hotel, a dive bar that was open late at the city end of Oxford Street with a very mixed crowd. This area was the zone for the Revolution.

The reason why I am thinking of this is Pride happened this week in Stockholm. Pride is nice. It is fun. It is a chance for all people to get together and celebrate and acknowledge the voices and rights of LGBTQI people everywhere. But today Pride is also spineless. There is no protest. There is no anger. Marketing is now a major part of the agenda when it comes to Queer community visibility in Europe. A gay friend asked me what I thought of Pride and why I did not go. I have thought about that question since and I am trying to answer it here.

Politicians march in a Stockholm daylight Pride parade (the Sydney Mardi Gras was always at night — with the back alleys of Darlinghurst transformed into a Satyricon set and a party that cannot be described). Today politicians who’s policies are so called ‘family friendly” (whatever that means) wave a rainbow flag and tell people that we are all together.

Sweden’s Christian Democrats’ leader Ebba Busch wants so badly to go to Pride parades, but she thinks that LGBTQI people should downplay their sexuality and that the nuclear family should continue to be prized. A paradoxical stance that does not lead to a society where LGBTQI people can live free from discrimination and violent crime.

But we aren’t. Gender and sexual politics, not to mention the many daily issues that make life difficult for LGBTQI people (and that are only felt by LGBTQI people), are worse than ever in many communities and countries. So tourists can come out and wave a flag, while people suffer behind the state sanctioned fun of Pride.

This is why I mention the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. It was born out of struggle and strife as you can see documented in the above video. People fought for their rights, by giving up their bodies to police violence and then they showed the world what those rights had given them. For one night of the year they were Kings and Queens. I have a lot of respect for that.

Stonewall

Pride was born out of the 3-day riot at the Stonewall Bar in New York in 1969, when the queer community told law enforcement they were simply not going to take persecution and harassment anymore. A year after the uprising, to mark the anniversary on June 28, 1970, the first gay pride marches took place in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.

Compare if you will, the above video from Sydney in 1994 with the family fun day that is Pride Stockholm 2022:

Rodney Diverlus is an internationally recognized dancer and choreographer who is a gay Artivist, Performance Maker, Mover|Co-Founder of BLMCanada and the Director of the Wildseed Centre for Art and Activism. He has also said “Pride was, and still is, a riot.” He is totally correct. In the Stockholm video you can see a parade led by the police, with floats moving through the crowd advertising, to name but a few, the Nordic Hotel Group, Nordea Bank, QX Förlag AB (“Sweden’s largest company for the rainbow community with LGBTQ news, entertainment, international QueerMap and a shop with a wide selection of rainbow products”), Eurovision and lots of flags.

If Pride is to continue it should move away from the corporate and back to the community. Pride needs to be political. Pride must embrace the community it represents and speak of those challenges, persecutions and injustices that the community is struggling with as well as its victories and achievements. Pride needs to build connections with other resistance movements; environmental, racial, political and sexual. If Pride remains a commercial concern it will quickly loose touch with the people it is supposed to be representing. Sadly, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is also now a multi-million dollar event, with all the commercial considerations that come with it. The video of the 1994 Mardi Gras is now a relic of a time when what was possible was not what could be afforded. It was about dreaming of a better future.

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James Barrett

James Barrett

Freelance scholar. Humanist. Interested in language, culture, music, technology, design & philosophy. I like Literature & Critical Theory. Traveler. I am mine.