I will not be in attendance at Dublin Pride this this year – I am travelling abroad on the weekend, which will be the reason for my absence. However if I think about it, it feels like I am dodging a bullet.
Pride has been an important annual event for me, ever since coming out all those decades ago. My first Pride was called Dublin Gay Pride and I attended it in 1996. I was fresh in Dublin, fresh out of the closet, living in a country that had freshly decriminalised homosexuality (since 1993). On that first year there was about 1500 attendees. Masks were offered to cover our faces in case anyone was scared of being identified. Home-made banners demanding employment protection were plentiful. A t-shirt proclaiming ‘I can’t even think straight’ was popular. I was nervous like a spring primrose on that day – blowing the free whistle with gusto (everyone was given a whistle as it made us sound like a bigger group than we actually were) and refusing the mask. Imagine my horror – tinged with joy – when the following month I was flicking through the Gay Times glossy magazine fro m England which was stocked in Eason’s Bookshop, and I stumbled across a picture of my good self, representing Dublin in an article called ‘Pride Across the World.’. I looked really tough.
Pride was special because as at that time being openly gay was actually rare. I worked in a company with over a thousand employees (in a different set of Wastelands to my current one) so there were plenty of us folk there. The ‘out’ ones could be counted on the fingers of a solitary hand – the others that I knew were silent about their lives. Having always had obstreperous tendencies I was one of that handful of ‘out’ people. Pride day felt radical – marching down the street with my brethren, to looks of bemusement and disgust felt quite revolutionary. This was a few years before employment discrimination had been banned. If you were fired for being gay at that time you had no legal redress. Casual assault was a fairly regular thing – after a drunken evening in the George for example, I was getting the shift (Irish word for snogging) on the junction between Dame Street and Parliament Street when I got a fist in the head and called a pervert.
The route of the parade was up O’Connell Street; over the bridge and then on to Westmoreland Street; down Dame Street before reaching the spot for the after-party in the Civic Offices. My memory may be hazy but I’d swear that Panti was the compere even back then in the depths of late last century.
A few years later I left for Amsterdam, hungry for new adventures in a country that represented freedom to me – and where I could smoke marijuana freely (smoking weed was not the reason I went there, I just liked the fact that I could if I felt like it). Every now and then if I was back in Dublin on the last Saturday in June (always this date – it is chosen to coincide with the Stonewall Riot in New York in 1969, when the police raided a Mob-run run gay bar, and the patrons fought back. The Stonewall Riot is credited as an important event in the advancement of LGBT rights in the western world) then I would meet up with friends and enjoy the parade.
I came back to Ireland in late 2015. My first Pride in Dublin since my return was in 2016. How it had changed. This was a massive event now – no more 1500 people with whistles and masks, and confused or belligerent stares from onlookers. This was a full on party with tens of thousands of spectators and participants. This was no protest for equal rights. Which is a good thing. The fact that we have advanced so much in terms of acceptance is amazing. That we don’t need to campaign for equality before the law is marvellous. That Dublin has this huge annual event – in which the entire city participates and is second in size only to the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade – is a good message to send to people from newer communities in Ireland who might not have the same freedom in their country of birth. The fact that it is a party about acceptance and community and diversity is wonderful.
My concern is with the corporate sponsorship. This is choking the life out of the event and turning it into a dazed monument to consumption. I guess it’s nice that tax-dodging tech behemoths like Google and Facebook and Linkedin and Microsoft and IBM and Dell are present (along with their multinational accountancy firms). I suppose we should celebrate that Primark (and other clothing companies) are releasing lines of Pride themed disposable fashions manufactured in far-away sweatshops where the human rights of the workers are disregarded. I guess a company like AirBNB which contributes to the homelessness catastrophe in Dublin should be welcomed with open arms. Diageo which owns Smirnoff which assists in the misery of LGBT people who abuse alcohol at disproportionate rates are swell. Welcome to Tesco who makes sure that their LGBT (as well as straight) employees live below the poverty line as they don’t pay a living wage.
These companies now love us. They really, really love us. So long as we are consuming I guess. I doubt that they are promoting Pride themed events in lucrative markets like Russia or Saudi Arabia where the LGBT people face discrimination or imprisonment or death. I don’t remember any of them present back in 1996 (many did not exist back then, but many of them did). The fact that they are ‘celebrating diversity’ when there is absolutely no risk in doing so is fine. But I wonder if it is these companies that insist that Pride be ‘family-friendly’ – and by that phrase I mean heterosexual families. I fully support Pride’s after party being a child-friendly place – in designated child friendly places. I like that heterosexuals are welcome at Pride. They are guests though. This is not their party.
Perhaps I am being curmudgeonely but I want corporate sponsorship strictly limited to companies that openly celebrate Pride in Russia and Saudi Arabia – if they do not then they can show their sincerity by donating money with no strings attached, without a float. This can be explained to them. They will understand. They ‘celebrate diversity’ after all. I want community groups and groups advocating for our communities to be front and centre of this Parade. They’ve had our backs a lot longer than the corporate vultures.
I want to see beer for sale so that the leather Marys can enjoy a frosty bad boy after the parade without risk of some random child finding it. I want the Dykes-on-Bikes to be able to rev their motorcycles without fear of scaring the kiddies.
I guess what I am trying to say is that Dublin Pride is probably not really for my old bones any more.
Limerick Pride (or at least Pride outside of Dublin) seems to be where it’s at in terms of actual community these days.
I must book my train ticket.