Today Sky Yarlett made a blog post about how any entry fee is too high for a pride event.
In the below I have used QUILTBAG in general to refer to “Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans, Bisexual, Asexual, and Gay” people, but LGBT when reflecting legal matters or self-definitions of existing events as such
As a QUILTBAG activist, I of course believe that free events and pride protests/marches/celebrations are entirely preferable, and this allows us to best handle the increased intersectional effects of poverty on gender and sexual minorities.
However, as anyone who has ran an event will know, there are always costs involved. Venues are not free, sound systems cost money to rent, and marquees and tents need to be acquired. That’s not even to mention staffing the place, running a website, event security, licensing, marketing, and all the time and labour in the months in the run-up to get the event organised and tents filled.
Sponsorship is a commonly used approach to cover the costs, but often this can be very harmful. It can further reinforce views that pride is for the gay white man, or even promote companies that actively harm minorities in their advertising. And all such sponsorship leads to a further feeling of commercialisation.
But with further funding, the better events can do more than simply cover expected costs – they can reach out to other groups and actively work to correct for past issues. Nottinghamshire pride was able to do just that, putting on burlesque and circus tents to diversify the entertainment, and helped to fund a highly successful Trans stage ran by Nottingham Recreation. This is well worth remarking upon, as a dedicated Trans stage is virtually unheard of, especially outside London, and they had so many trans and queer performers looking to perform that they actually had to turn people down.
Nottinghamshire Pride did have to take corporate sponsorship, unfortunately, from E.ON to cover their costs in the run-up to the event. Unlike some other sponsors, E.ON wasn’t an entirely oddball choice, however, as they do have an apparently very active LGBT group and supporting policies*. This did lead them to get three stalls in total and their name on all promotional materials, but it was quite clear that there was still plenty of room for community stalls (and further commercial traders).
Sadly homophobic incidents at Pride events are not an uncommon occurrence, meaning that event organisers are being pushed to find means to improve the safety of Pride events somehow. Whilst I am not entirely sure this is the best approach, one commonly tried and tested solution is to physically restrict access to the event, and place a fee on entry to discourage people who only want to come along to cause trouble. Laws around event licensing may also further encourage this.
The problem is, as soon as you start to charge a token fee, it is extremely tempting to just ramp that up a little, just a little more, may as well charge a lot after all. This is normally accompanied by higher spending of money on big name acts for the white gays and lesbians, which are, as Sky points out, often actually straight. And there are a lot of problems with security on a gate into a Pride event, aside from charging for entry. Many QUILTBAG people have experienced discrimination from people in a position of power before, and adequate training is a rare thing unfortunately.
This again is where Nottinghamshire Pride did something unusual – they posted openly how Nottinghamshire Pride donations where being spent, including the admission fee. Whilst they did have some big names, proportionally they were very much the minority, with local groups and smaller acts having the majority of the stage time.
In contrast, however, we have Birmingham Pride, which erected 6-foot high fencing through the middle of the gay village, and charged £10 for a single day wristband. The money from these was used entirely for bigger name acts and employing even more security for the event. Everyone I have talked to who went to Birmingham Pride stated that it felt lifeless, corporate, and just another White Gay Male pop music festival.
On the point of charging for entry, I have seen people state that charging even just £1 for entry would have had a vast impact on those less well-off. Whilst this is undoubtedly true, I do have to question were those raising these points have came from. In my experience, those who have consistently complained the most about entirely fair entry fees have been those who would think nothing, once within, of buying a lot of alcohol and food. And as someone who has had to live with barely enough for a roof over her head, I found at the time that reasonable and justified prices were not a big deal when they were clearly as such. This is exactly the same issue that we see time and time again over how financially less-well-off people budget and shop for food, which some very incorrect assumptions being made***. I recognise, however, that I’ve always had middle-class-background privilege, even if those months did teach me a lot more than I’d have wished.
Talking to other people at Nottinghamshire Pride, many of whom were experienced activists who had been to many different Pride events across the country, the feeling was generally a very positive one. It was common to hear people say that they couldn’t remember a better Pride**, and that they felt that it was more of a community event than a gay man’s music festival. There was also a wide attendance from many different subcultures, and a good number of families also came along and enjoyed the day. Whilst the price to get in was irritating, the knowledge that they were attempting to be open and transparent regarding it’s usage made it more manageable.
- Pride events should, were possible, be free, or as close as possible
- Events, however, unavoidably will incur costs that need to be covered
- Sponsorship is an imperfect means to cover costs, and has issues associated with it, but works well
- Security and safety at Pride events is a real concern, but security processes can also harm QUILTBAG people
- There is a growing feeling that many mainstream Pride events are just Gay White Male pop music festivals, not a celebration of QUILTBAG culture and existence, and have lost their vital protest roots, that are still relevant to this day
- Even token charges are undesirable, but sadly also understandable and potentially unavoidable
- If Pride events charge for entry, they must be open and transparent in their spending, and not just spend on more big-name pop acts, were possible helping to fund local groups’ tents and stages, and promoting true diversity for all QUILTBAG/LGBT people
- Profits from Pride events this should go towards the wider community, and be used to support local LGBT charities
- Additional security measures and charging at Pride events will marginalise intersectional communities further
- Birmingham Pride 2012 sucked
- Nottinghamshire Pride 2012 was utterly amazing!
* Disclaimer: I have friends who work for E.ON
** And they weren’t even drunk, honest!
*** This is a subject for another post, but in summary, the conclusion people tend to reach is that people should buy in bulk and cook from raw ingredients, and avoid all luxuries. This completely ignores the realities of such positions