I still remember my first Pride, nearly half a lifetime ago. I was fifteen years old, having a day out in Glasgow with my mother, when we found the parade kicking off on Queen Street. In the years between then and now, I have often wondered if this choice of start point was intentional. But at the time I wasn’t familiar enough with gay culture, or the ironic reclaiming of slurs, to question it. Plus, the feathers and flamboyance were so far removed from what I’d seen of the world that they commanded my full attention.
Mum was happy enough to watch. She’s a lesbian. And at the time I still thought of myself as bisexual. So, we stood together on the side-lines and watched the parade go by. I was entranced by a float bearing perhaps a dozen gay men and a banner about gay fatherhood. They blew kisses into the crowd, and it was one of the few occasions in my teenage years where the attention of unknown adult males felt like a safe, welcome thing.
Things got slightly awkward when a group of men started jousting with giant inflatable penises. Witnessing anything vaguely sexual alongside your parents is always excruciating. But it seems so tame compared to the fetish gear that porn culture has since brought into the mainstream. Had there been any overt BDSM on display, like the images I see circulated on Twitter every Pride season, there is no doubt in my mind that Mum would have said we were leaving. And I would have been perfectly happy to agree.
A recent survey found that 53% of lesbian and bisexual women don’t feel comfortable or welcomed at Pride.
Back then, it would have been unthinkable to me that – as a grown woman with the freedom to go to Pride each year – I would choose not to participate. But I haven’t been to Pride in years. And I’m not alone in that. A recent survey found that 53% of lesbian and bisexual women don’t feel comfortable or welcomed at Pride. Less than half of the women surveyed said they planned to attend Pride, though the vast majority of them lived in towns or cities where Pride had been organised.
Something has gone seriously wrong in the LGBT community when the majority of women feel alienated by Pride. And although I will always remember my first Pride with fondness, I realise now that there were very few women involved in the march. The only all-female group I saw that day were SheBoom, the biggest women’s drumming ensemble in Europe. Everywhere else, men dominated. Sexism has been undermining our community since it first formed, undermining pioneering groups such as the Gay Liberation Front. And until we address misogyny in LGBT spaces, nothing is going to change.
Pride began as a protest. It was a way of commemorating the Stonewall Uprising, which was sparked by a butch biracial lesbian resisting police brutality. Her name was Stormé DeLarverie. Although Stormé’s name has been all but erased from LGBT history, side-lined in favour of her male contemporaries, there would be no Pride without her courage. I often wonder what Stormé would make of uniformed police officers joining in the march; the rainbow merchandise churned out by corporations; Pride’s sponsorship by international banking conglomerates.
Rainbow capitalism has little to offer the average lesbian, who is more likely to live in poverty than the average straight woman or gay man. Yet it’s shoved down our throats at every possible opportunity by brands eager to cash in on gay rights, reducing liberation politics to a marketing trend. This cynicism and greed of corporations, along with the misogyny we experience in LGBT spaces, push women out of Pride.
When groups like the Lesbian Rights Alliance challenge Stonewall, or Get the L Out protest Pride, they are vilified. But it’s easier to monster grassroots lesbian organising than to ask what drove women to form those breakaway groups in the first place.
These values in no way represent me as a lesbian. When I think of what really makes me proud to be gay, it’s the women who build lesbian community for little reward or recognition. I feel proud to belong to such an exceptional group of women. Proud that the older lesbians in my life saw something in me worth nurturing. Proud to be able to do the same for the younger lesbians in my life. But I feel no pride in a movement that repeatedly turns its back on lesbians.
When groups like the Lesbian Rights Alliance challenge Stonewall, or Get the L Out protest Pride, they are vilified. But it’s easier to monster grassroots lesbian organising than to ask what drove women to form those breakaway groups in the first place. Because we are conditioned to expect women to subordinate our needs and shoulder the bulk of care work, people can have a knee-jerk dislike of women centring ourselves and each other. Lesbian separatism has always been viewed through the lens of suspicion. And that misogyny only widens the divide threatening to fracture LGBT community.
Claire Heuchan is an author, essayist, and Black radical feminist. She writes the award-winning blog, Sister Outrider.