Gareth Roberts

The sinister side of Pride

The festival now feels like a party to which many gay people are not invited

The sinister side of Pride
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So we come to the end of Pride month. We’re all now familiar with the rituals: the rainbow flag plastered across everything from sandwiches to mouthwash, the vapid statements of obeisance from big businesses and institutions. 2022 has seen a bumper crop of these. Rainbow bullets displayed on Twitter by the US Marines. Central London bedecked with the ‘progress Pride’ flag and its ever-expanding mysterious arrows and circles. Even the Halifax piled in, suggesting its customers close their bank accounts if they oppose a policy allowing staff to display their personal pronouns on name tags. 

This week, protesters gathered on Whitehall to declare that ‘Boris Johnson is a fascist’, presumably in response to his recent, grudging acknowledgement that there are two sexes. The footage shows them smiling, laughing and having a great old time while doing this, something one wouldn’t expect from people standing against brutal authoritarianism. 

It’s tempting to sit back and laugh, but there is also something increasingly sinister about it all. Pride now signifies a very different thing from its original purpose: a simple refusal to be ashamed of homosexuality. Today it has taken on board the ideas of the American campus, queer theory and gender self-identification. Yet in trying to be more inclusive, it has become less so: those who don't toe the line on the new orthodoxy when it comes to trans rights are not welcome to join in the festivities.

Ironically, it’s the lesbians and gay men who object to this shift that face the sharp end of Pride and its adherents. Julie Bindel, who was due to give a talk at a library last weekend, was cast out by Nottingham council because of her 'views on transgender rights'. The LGB Alliance has been subject to a legal challenge to its charity status over claims it discriminates against trans people. Academics, lawyers, writers, have been intimidated out of their jobs, abandoned by both their managements and their unions.

As a homosexual man, I remember the Commons debates in 1988 just before the introduction of section 28, and how astonishingly lazy and ill-informed the majority of the speakers were. 34 years on, and the Commons debate on ‘trans conversion therapy’ held this month was equally staggering: MPs from all parties puffed themselves up and pontificated platitudes about an issue to which they clearly haven’t given more than a moment’s actual thought.

From corporates to institutions to politicians, Pride is now considered an easy PR win, like standing next to a charity boss with a huge novelty fundraising cheque. Yet the cost of actually understanding the issues facing gay people are complicated, so many don’t bother. In the words of the Halifax, compliance with Pride – with its Kumbyaa-ishly vapid slogans such as ‘Be kind’, ‘Love wins’ and pronoun name badges – is ‘quite simply...doing what's right.’. So that’s all right then. End of discussion!

But below decks, in the gay world, a bust up is breaking out. Much of the mainstream gay press ignores this discussion. When the editor of the long-established free sheet Boyz suggested giving the LGB Alliance a fair hearing he was run out of town. This makes it hard to get a clear picture of the disquiet, because few will speak up in public for fear of intimidation and serious harm to their professional lives. But LGB WhatsApp groups are mushrooming across the land. These are the last safe refuges for people to say what they think. 

With its ever more bizarre flags, the whole Pride month festival now feels like a party to which many gay people are not invited. Want to talk about gender surgeries on young people, the malice of the gender lobby or heterosexual men claiming to be lesbians? If you know what’s good for you, don't bother. Pride is not a time to celebrate, it's an occasion to stay in line. So thank the gay gods that Pride is over for another year. Meanwhile, the mostly hidden gay civil war rumbles on.

Written byGareth Roberts

Gareth Roberts is a TV scriptwriter and novelist who has worked on Doctor Who and Coronation Street

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