The London Pride march takes place this coming weekend, on Saturday 8 July. Barclays, Tesco and Virgin Atlantic are all sponsors of an increasingly corporate event. But opposition to dominance of corporations and official state bodies is also emerging internationally. After Black Lives Matter, uniformed cops can’t march at Pride in Toronto, while on 10 June protesters in Washington DC interrupted a march they argued was “more interested in accommodating the interests of Metropolitan police and of corporate sponsors” than in supporting LGBTQ communities. In this report from Dublin, Jen O’Leary describes how radical groups there organised for this year’s Pride.
This year on Saturday 24 June, around a hundred people took part in radical bloc amid the thousands taking part in Dublin Pride. Radical blocs have been happening on Pride for the past number of years in various forms. Some of those involved in planning and organising this year’s bloc have been involved in these over the years. Others came together through struggles such as Strike4Repeal, which campaigns against the 8th Amendment, Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion.
For years, LGBT organising has pushed in a reformist direction, seeking to accommodate us within the framework of capitalism. Pride has become politically sanitised and intensely commercial. Many radical groups have come to believe that our struggle against oppression must be based upon building the strongest possible movement, and this requires bringing our various activist groups together in common struggle. We also believe that there needs to be a resurgence of LGBTQ liberation politics which can challenge cis heteronormativity, commercialisation, and capitalism itself. In that respect, we set out several approaches to organising the bloc as follows:
- anti-assimilation and anti-homonormativity – by “homonormativity” we mean, in the words of the American author Lisa Duggan, “a privatized, depoliticised gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption”.
- bringing together several grassroots campaigns in an effort to repoliticise Pride
On the morning of 24 June we dropped a banner reading “Liberation Not Corporations” from the Cobblestone pub, a Dublin pub where a lot of leftists hold events or socialise. The pub is situated at the end point of the parade route, and the banner was visible to about three-quarters of the parade before being removed due to wind. The parade itself included more corporate floats than non-corporate ones – 76 commercial, state and establishment political party floats compared to 62 non-corporate ones.
The bloc’s second spectacle was the use of rainbow smoke – inspired by an action on Vauxhall Bridge in London by an LGBTQ protest group at the time of Trump’s inauguration. The smoke was released in front of our bloc’s “Queer Solidarity Smashes Borders” banner to chants of “no borders, no nations, stop deportations”, in protest at deportations and the direct provision system that exists in Ireland. “Direct provision” sees people who seek asylum locked up for years or decades, prevented from working, all for the multi-million-euro profit of private companies. Our protest received attention and applause and drew more people in towards us as we continued along the route.
You Only Gave Us Rights Cos We Gave You Riots
As a riff on the main parade’s theme of “finding your inner hero”, we called ourselves “The Working Class Queeroes”. As well as including individual anti-assimilation working class queers, the bloc was made up of grassroots community groups such as the Sex Workers Alliance, the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Anti-Racism Network, Refugee and Migrant Solidarity Ireland, Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, US Military Out Of Shannon, Action Against Internment of Gay Men In Chechnya, Workers Solidarity Movement, Irish Housing Network, and SAIA Dublin, an art collective of migrant people.
As recently as 2010, sex workers were banned from participating in Dublin Pride. Last year, however, Sex Workers’ Alliance Ireland (SWAI) carried a “Queers for Sex Workers’ Rights” banner to the front of one of the radical blocs which some of us were involved in organising. We were proud to be joined by them again this year to continue that pro-decriminalisation message, and to march to chants of “we are workers of the night, same struggle, same fight”.
Our strong anti-Israeli pinkwashing contingent carried a banner that read “No Pride In Israeli Apartheid” and we distributed a leaflet against pinkwashing, Israel’s cynical PR strategy of trying to use claims about its record on LGBTQ issues to distract attention from its crimes against the Palestinians. The leaflet named corporations which participate in Pride yet engage in activities that harm the Palestinian people, such as Airbnb, PayPal and Bank of Ireland.
Authoritarian Manufacturing of Fear
This year, the Dublin Pride Committee allowed fears of terrorism to be trumped up by citing the attacks in Manchester and London. Through this they enforced more authoritarian measures, such as creating gated sections where people could not bring a bag bigger than an A4 sheet. The state used incidences of terrorism in Britain to be more authoritarian at a Pride in another country, and to drum up fear in the population by putting armed police on our streets, which hasn’t been the norm in Ireland. These measures are counterproductive – they scapegoat Muslims, separate them from non-Muslims and exaggerate the strength of groups like Islamic State. They are the exact response that IS would want.
The radical bloc won applause on the march – including people who stood on the pavement and had just watched all the corporate floats go past them. Our chants for no borders and no deportations were very well received by migrant people in the inner city Dublin working class neighbourhoods we marched through. Our bloc grew somewhat as we marched – people took and engaged with our leaflets, both the anti-pinkwashing and the anti-corporatisation ones.
We can’t know what the wider impact of all that is on Corporate Gay™ or the business that is Pride. But we do believe that it’s still worth intervening in Pride politically and that we need to build the numbers on our side through struggle and draw people towards us. Pride is not all corporates – it’s still a place where some people go to feel normal for a day. The divide between the fancy monied gays and the have-nots is wide, mirroring society in general – the movement needs to be steered off course from serving the interests of the wealthy. And there definitely exists a space for us within which to build as revolutionaries. Through hard work and solid organising we can see positive results, and we can have an impact at a very personal level on those people who joined our radical bloc.
The Working Class Queeroes are continuing to organise towards a greater radical queer movement and we can be found at https://workingclassqueeroes.wordpress.com/