100 years after the First World War the world has changed in so many ways, and gay liberation is one of the incredible advances of the past century. Yet, despite the horrors of the so-called Great War, peace has not yet arrived on planet Earth. The emergence of an LGBTQ community is a sign of the shifting times, of the emergence of a more liberal, liberated age, but the controversies that arise when we reach Pride season are also a reflection of how far there is still to go in our troubled world. As we parade on the streets of our cities each summer we send out messages to the rest of the population about what we stand for, how we feel about the world and what we would like to see in it. It is important that they (and we) get to know what is upsetting us too.
We of course are marching to express our joy and gratitude at the freedom we have in this country to express ourselves, to love and be sexual with each other. Our Pride parades are a rainbow gathering of folk of all ages from all the world’s races, nations, faiths and sexualtities. Our parades reveal how playing with gender, exploring different identities and roles, rejoicing in each other, spreading acceptance and love into the world are fundamental parts of what lgbtq people do, are ways in which we are changing the world.
In the second decade of the 21st century the horrors of our age are paraded daily in the media – war, corrupt political systems, corporate greed, environmental destruction. We may be gay and fabulous but we are entitled to have views on these matters. Any idea that Pride is just a party now that we have gay marriage etc is laughable. The presence of big corporations and the military on the parade is hailed by many as a sign of how much things have changed in our society, and lauded for the signal their involvement sends to other parts of the world. This is true. But it is not the whole story.
The military performs a vital and noble function in our society. It is there to defend us, does vital humanitarian work around the world and the people who serve in it are dedicated and well intentioned. They deserve the right to march at Pride without criticism. But arms manufacturers? Political parties? Oil companies? Banks?
The London Pride website says
“Our Parade provides a platform for every part of London’s LGBT+ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer, questioning, intersex, non-binary, asexual, polysexual, genderqueer and gender variant people) to raise awareness of LGBT+ issues and campaign for the freedoms that will allow them to live their lives on a genuinely equal footing.
“It gives us a chance to be visible and speak loudly to the rest of the city about what we have achieved, how far we have come and what is still needed.”
It’s good that we can ‘be visible and speak loudly’ about what’s going on for us, but we are not encouraged to say what we feel about what’s going on in the rest of the world. The presence of the soldiers and sailors, the bankers and drillers, of the gay christians and muslims too, reassures the establishment that we are good, obedient citizens, grateful for the legal status they deigned to give us, not rocking the boat and dutifully putting all our pink pounds into their pockets (except the slice that goes to our drug dealers of course), playing along with their tired, old, conflict and competition driven games that set people against each other and use up the precious resources of the Mother planet.
There are always a few protestors at Pride, but they are viewed by organisers and gay media as a fringe issue, an annoyance. The Red Arrows will fly over London Pride this summer and all the marchers will go “Hooray, the military-industrial, capitalist machine is looking after us”… or will there be an ominous moment of realisation? Yes the military deserve our respect and honour, but what LGBT people all over the world need in order to be safe is PEACE. All people need peace. Life on earth is in crisis and the vast amounts of money channelled into weaponry, nuclear and conventional, and into the ever expanding bank accounts of the rich, could and should be used for better purposes. I have a feeling most of the people on that march would rather see that future than one where the horrors and mistakes of the last century are repeated in this.
It’s not that peace can come overnight. It’s not that capitalism can be replaced with a more compassionate and sustainable system just like that. In a few decades the campaigning power of LGBTQ people has brought about massive changes in the world, but now at our Prides we are encouraged to be simply happy, grateful citizens. In fact it is quite possible to be proud and pissed off. It is quite possible that a few voices on the sidelines are saying the very things that one day everyone will think… that is in fact how it always works. Change takes time, but in the queer universe it comes quicker than elsewhere. Imagine if gay pride became a peace rally, calling for an overhaul of how the world is run. Pride is already a rainbow nation parade, it is much more than a party for sexual minorities…. and in that fact there is a r-evolutionary power waiting to be seized.
In synchronistic timing with the current Pride controversy regarding the Red Arrows flypast, queer artist Ernesto Tomasini currently starring in Symphony For A Lost Generation, a 3d holographic show about the human tragedy of the First World War.
It is through our queer art and music that we get to express our feelings about what goes in the world. Pride should be a reflection of our hopes and dreams, our compassionate hearts and our peace-loving souls, and a place where we can debate as a community what we stand for – not expecting us all to agree, but because the conversation needs to happen.
Below is a link to a playlist of songs and poetry from queer artists on the subject of war. See how many of them sing its praises.
Bronski Beat. No More War
Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Two Tribes and War
Culture Club. The War Song
Klaus Nomi. Total Eclipse
Depeche Mode. People are People
Elton John. Border Song
Lou Reed. Kill Your Sons
Bob Dylan. Masters of War
Freddie Mercury. There Must Be More To Life Than This
Indigo Girls. Tether
The Cranberries. Zombie
Jayne County. Deviation
Tracy Chapman. Why
Morrissey. This Is Not Your Country
Radiohead. Burn the Witch
Joan Armatrading. In These Times
Ani Difranco. Self Evident
Soft Cell. Darker Times
George Michael. The Grave & Shoot the Dog
Queen Latifah. Evil That Men Do
Nine Inch Nails. The Hand That Feeds
Anohni. Drone Bomb Me
David Bowie. I’d Rather Be High
Antony and the Johnsons. Another World and Rise
Village People. In the Navy
Erasure. Turns the Love to Anger
R.E.M. It’s the End of the World
Flanders and Swann. 20 Tons of TNT
Wilred Owen. Arms and the Boy
Walt Whitman. Beat! Beat! Drums
Marc Almond. Day & Night. Brave Boy. Tears Run Rings
Fancy. Long Way to Paradise
Marlene Dietrich. Where Have All The Flowers Gone?