Brendan O’Neill

Why I’m sick of Pride

When did personal identity become the only game in town?

Why I'm sick of Pride
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Anyone else sick of the Pride flag? It’s everywhere. It flutters from virtually every building in central London. Town halls across the country are emblazoned with it. Every bank, corporation, supermarket and celebrity Twitter account has had a rainbow makeover. There are Pride-themed sandwiches, beer bottles, cakes. Jon Snow has even worn Pride-coloured socks. You could be forgiven for thinking we’ve been conquered by a foreign army that has proceeded to stick its flag in every nook, cranny and orifice of the nation.

It’s Pride Month, of course. And the reason it’s a whole month is because we are at the fiftieth anniversary of the New York Stonewall Riots of 1969, when gays, lesbians, drag queens and others fought back against cops who kept barging into gay bars and harassing the clientele. The thing is, that’s a great thing to celebrate. The Stonewall uprising was a very positive movement. It gave rise to struggles for gay liberation and equality. The gains made by gay-rights warriors over the past five decades have been amazing and important.

But the melting of that great liberatory moment into today’s bland and virtually mandatory forced Pride shenanigans is depressing. It tells a broader story about the demise of radical politics. The riotous counterculturalists of the Sixties and Seventies demanded freedom. They didn’t give a damn what the ‘moral majority’ thought of them  — they just wanted the moral majority to leave them alone.

Fast forward to 2019, and that historic human instinct to be left alone in liberty has been replaced by a needy and therapeutic politics of recognition. Now gay-rights activists don’t demand autonomy — they want validation. Everyone has to wave their flag and celebrate their lifestyle and embrace the strange new idea that trans women are literally women, and if you don’t it’s off to the metaphorical gulag with you.

It’s no longer enough to leave homosexuals alone to live however they choose and to inflict on them no persecution or discrimination or any ill-will whatsoever on the basis of their sexuality, which is absolutely the right thing for a civilised liberal society to do. No, now you have to validate their identity and cheer their life choices. You must doff your cap to that omnipresent bloody rainbow. Today it isn’t homosexuals who are persecuted; it’s their critics, whether it’s Ann Widdecombe or Tim Farron, with their well-known aversion to gay romping, or those Muslim parents in Birmingham who don’t think six-year-old Muhammad needs to know that some men sleep with men. 

The new moral majority is pro-gay rather than anti-gay. It consists of the political class, the capitalist class, the media class and the celebrity class. Its flag is the Pride flag. Its branding and messaging are inescapable. If you’re a truly virtuous person, you’ll even wear the new moral majority’s political paraphernalia, in the form of a Pride badge, a Pride t-shirt, or Pride socks on the actual TV news (Mr Snow). Doing so is a way of letting everyone know you’re a good person. You’re on the right side of virtue and the right side of history. You are an insider. 

But there are many reasons why it might be a good idea to dissent from the orgy of Pride conformism and to refuse to bow and scrape before the rainbow flag. That flag sums up everything that is wrong with our era. Its message is that you should be proud of yourself simply for what you are — for having been ‘born this way’, as Lady Gaga puts it — rather than for what you have achieved.

As a symbol, it’s a celebration of the self, of an accident of birth, of something as mundane as who one sleeps with. It’s an invitation to narcissism and, as such, it further corrodes the social solidarity and sense of community so many of us long for today. Pride, the institution, is anti-social.

Contrast the chattering class’s reaction to the Pride flag with their reaction to the St George’s flag. Wave that latter flag from your home and they’ll think you’re a racist. Bring it to work and flap it out the window and someone would probably call the police. Get it tattooed on your forearm and the middle-class members of the new moral majority will make an instant judgement about you: ill-educated, hates blacks, loves going mental at the football, probably beats his wife, eats fry-ups too often.

But wave the Pride flag and they’ll love you. That’s because pride in oneself is the only pride that is allowed in our identitarian era. National pride is tantamount to a crime, pride in one’s culture or history is suspect. But pride in one’s own identity? Here, have a newspaper column to tell us more!

It’s so dispiriting. Personal identity is the only game in town. National identity is a huge no no. And yet there are huge numbers of people out there, who we rarely hear from, who feel a strong attachment to the national British or English identity and who even have pangs of national pride. And it isn’t because they’re racist — it’s because they want to feel part of something bigger than themselves. This urge to look beyond oneself to the possibility of national togetherness and solidarity is surely more positive than the new cult of identity politics and its invitation to constant self-gazing and self-celebration.

Gay people should be as free and equal as straight people. And today they are. That’s wonderful. But the fact you are gay is the least interesting thing about you. Tell me something else.