As people get ready for this weekend’s Belfast Pride parade, we asked Darragh McCarthy to talk to us about Pride as a protest, and the struggles facing all LGBT+ people today.
People often ask what is Pride: what’s the point of it? There are a whole host of answers and we are right to celebrate and be proud of absolutely everything Pride is; how it is many different things to many different people. But one thing it should be to everyone is a protest.
Pride is a celebration of our survival and continued fight for the right to exist, in a world where we must suffer acute oppression at the hands of reactionary forces in society; at the hands of the capitalist system; from the discrimination and hatred that is inherently woven into society and institutions as a result of such forces. So, Pride in many ways is a party. It’s a coming together of queer people to celebrate the fact that we’re still here – but it’s also fundamentally a protest, and importantly, a commemoration. It can’t not be all of these things at the same time, or else it isn’t really Pride. It’s just bastardised, corrupted for either the profits of banks and big companies wanting to improve their image, or social harmony in the face of collective suffering as elites proclaim that now we have been granted the ‘same’ legal rights (if we’re fortunate) as heterosexual, cisgender people.
For those better off, by which I mean middle-class, gay, white, cisgender men; legal rights are often almost enough. But for people of colour, for the working class, for those suffering from mental illness and for queer youth in general, legal equality will never mean genuine equality, especially when we have don’t have it to begin with. Before you even introduce the fact that we are LGBT+. The slogan gets bandied about a lot, but the first Pride was a riot. When you look at what Pride has become today, for the most part, it’s easy to forget this. The first Pride was a riot at the Stonewall Inn against another attack by the police. This was a place populated not with the happy unoppressed face of the modern “gay movement” that has taken over what Pride appears to be today, but with transgender people, drag queens, butch lesbians, effeminate young men, male prostitutes, and homeless youth. In many ways, Stonewall reminds us that what Pride is today is not really for us, for those that already suffer tremendously under capitalism, rather, it’s for an entirely different group of people. Our Pride is something entirely different.
Just like every one there has ever been, Pride is incredibly important. But this Pride has come after what is probably the most fatal attack on LGBT+ people in recent history. We have fought for and won many legal rights and civic victories, but have things really changed if the majority of LGBT+ people are still afraid to hold hands in public. What is the point of being able to marry if we are constantly fearful of showing the most minimal acts of affection in public? Many come out of the closet to their friends and family, proudly announcing their queerness to those closest to them, only to then have to step into the larger and more hateful closet that is society under capitalism. We must fear LGBT-phobic violence and abuse with every step, whether we truly realise that we have this fear or not. It comes so naturally to us that we often forget that it is fear we feel, because of our queer identities and orientations. So while such rights are incredibly important and we should fight for them, we should not fight for them alone, and Pride should be our reminder of that. The experience of Orlando is the kind of horror that is reality for many LGBT+ people across the world, places where they must suffer much more intense oppression for being queer. While solidarity being sent out to LGBT+ people following Orlando was a fantastic thing, this kind of suffering is constant for queer people who are not as fortunate as to only have to put up with the general levels of oppression that LGBT+ people experience in countries where “legal protections” and more expanded rights exist.
LGBTphobia cannot be legislated away, nor can such attacks be prevented by greater involvement of police in our events or the LGBT+ community. Queer people are not going to want to live under some sort of police state for their own queer community. Societal change must occur, and can only happen, through the kind of collective struggles that led to legal change being demanded and taken from the people in power throughout history. This change must come from a movement on the ground. There is very little point in winning things like marriage equality, or equality in adoption services, or even equal access to blood donation, if queer people are so marginalised that many still feel uncomfortable with the idea of holding hands in public.
This is one of the main and obvious reasons why Pride must always be a protest. We cannot wait for things to progress and get slowly, incrementally better in some parts of some of our lives, or worse in others. The simple fact is that not everyone will have made it to this Pride. Whether it be from homophobic, transphobic or other LGBT-phobic attacks, or as a result of suffering from mental illness that such phobia largely contributes to, or at the very least makes worse. Every Pride, we must remember those that we have lost. We must mourn them, but also celebrate their lives, and most importantly, we must fight on for them. While in some places we may be able to get married, and so one could believe things are improving for queer people, but to celebrate these things uncritically disregards the fact that not all benefit from them. While some may gain liberal rights such as these, they also suffer increasingly from neoliberal austerity policies, mass unemployment and underfunding of vital services, to name only the most obvious. Someone who suffers from severe mental illnesses and lacks the money to seek private care will not really ‘benefit’ in any real sense from the right to marry, nor will homeless queer people, and many others who are often forgotten about, so why should this be all Pride is? We must therefore celebrate our Pride.
For every LGBTQ+ person that has suffered and for those that have been beaten or even murdered by the brutal oppression they face, we will fight on in their memory. But we must do so against every other kind of oppression and inequality that those who attack us would have us hate with them. A new movement for LGBTQ+ people is needed, one that radically opposes and organises against all injustice in the world, in every form that entails, and will fight to create a better world. A world where the oppressed united can overcome the forces that would see the world destroyed, all in the name of profit.