Last month, Rhammel Afflick resigned as Director of Communications for Pride in London. Pride in London is the organisation behind the capital city’s annual LGBT+ Pride celebrations. “As custodians of the pride movement,” Afflick wrote in an article explaining his decision, “we must be willing to disrupt the cycle of discrimination faced by LGBT+ communities. To be clear, that means we must be prepared to not only state our values but uphold them when it matters.”
Within a matter of days, the entire Community Advisory Board (CAB) also resigned. According to Ozzy Amir, former chair of the CAB, “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for many of them was the decision to allow the inclusion of the Metropolitan Police in future Pride parades. Complaints had been made in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests last summer, requesting police to be excluded from the core parade, and calls were reiterated recently in the wake of the disastrous scenes at the Sarah Everard vigil in Clapham. The very purpose of the Community Advisory Board, consisting of ten individuals from across the LGBTQ spectrum, was “to advise the directors on questions of inclusivity and help the body meet its commitment to openness and transparency.”
Accusations and understandings of institutional racism, particularly within the police, have obviously been brought to light over the past year with the resurgence of the international Black Lives Matter movement. As the advisory board noted in its statement: “The CAB believes Pride in London has reneged on its support of Black Lives Matter and its commitments to ‘listen to, advocate for and platform Black LGBT+ people’.”
“Pride in London did not uphold its public commitment when it mattered most and failed to set even the most basic conditions on continued police involvement—like an acknowledgement of institutional racism,” they wrote. “As decision-makers, you have failed to back words with action, and failed the Black and POC communities you’ve purported to champion.” Amir added: “The rot runs deep and it’s past time for this board of directors to go.”
In response, five of the board of directors did in fact resign with immediate effect, including both co-chairs Michael Salter-Church and Alison Camps. Their statement wasn’t particularly well-received, though, entrenching the narrative that the board is out of touch. “Since Pride in London was founded by Michael Salter-Church in 2012,” their statement read, “literally from nothing, it has developed into one of the biggest Prides in the world and is London’s third-biggest annual event and the world’s largest LGBT+ fundraising event.”
“The Black and people of colour community were owed an apology,” noted Amir. “Yet nowhere in this self-congratulatory statement will you see the words ‘sorry’.” Many took umbrage with the phrase “literally from nothing” when all Pride events—indeed, the very notion of LGBT+ Pride—is built on the work of our forebears, including many trans and non-binary people, sex workers, and people of colour. In the UK, the Pride movement gained traction as a protest against Thatcher’s Section 29 and her government’s ineffectual and prejudiced response to the AIDS crisis. Several community groups, including the Pride Trust and London Mardi Gras, preceded Pride in London.
This is far from its first controversy. In fact, in its relatively short history, Pride in London has had more than its fair share. The Community Advisory Board published a report following the 2017 event, which criticised the “bi-erasure” of that year’s events. The group’s chair at the time, Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett, explained that “There has been significant disquiet across the LGBT+ communities, around Pride’s corporate nature, lack of inclusion [and] bad handling of sensitive intersectionality issues.”
What can be done? It’s not until September this year, instead of late June or early July as usual, to allow a buffer in case the government’s roadmap to reopening is delayed, which may seem inevitable to some. Pride in London is primarily a fundraising event, so a total boycott seems unnecessarily reactionary—yet, so much of these Pride events, particularly the focal march, has become so corporate that it’s practically unrecognisable as the radical intervention it once was. The former CAB members took aim at Pride in London’s volunteering base, writing, “If you wish to volunteer for an organisation that: values your lived experiences, backs its publicly stated values with action… Look elsewhere.”
Compared with the festival components of the other big British Pride events—Ariana Grande at Manchester’s and Kylie Minogue at Brighton’s one in 2019—London is relatively small fry, although they do make sure to keep the entire core programme free for all. No doubt this year’s will be bigger than ever, in large part to make up for last year’s lack of events, but a lot of the fun is to be found in the smaller, unofficial events, and by simply strutting the streets of Soho.
Moreover, the Black Trans Lives Matter march that I went to last year, which was organised on the same day as the cancelled parade, was an amazing experience—much more of a politically minded protest, less of a party, but nonetheless had a community spirit that felt so heartening, despite the unprecedented circumstances. I’d like to see more of this grassroots, activist focused work—that is both disruptive and engaging, but with a purpose.
There are some wonderful alternative organisations to support. UK Black Pride (UKBP) is a national event that is now usually timed to coincide with Pride in London’s main weekend. Co-founded in 2005 by the legendary and inspirational Phyllis Akua Opoku-Gyimah, aka Lady Phyll, UKBP is now Europe’s “largest celebration for African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American and Caribbean- heritage LGBTQ people”. In 2018, Stonewall—Europe’s largest LGBT rights charity—withdrew its support from Pride in London over its lack of diversity, instead partnering with and throwing its institutional support behind UK Black Pride. In the years since, efforts have been made to closer coordinate the two events, but this recent news makes it seem like little has really changed.
“If there was ever going to be a moment for renewed energy and excitement in listening to Black LGBT+ voices, it should be now,” Afflick wrote. “Change is needed. And if not now, when?”