The Jaded Jedi

Journal and General Musings

What is the point of Pride?

31/08/2015

Pride expressedWhat is the point of Pride? An unusual topic to pick surely? Well bear with me and hopefully the seasonality  of this particular question will become apparent.

Pride is one of those human conditions that we know when we see it in others and when we experience it ourselves. The picture to the right screams pride to me, yet others see other meaning in the facial expression. In my purely personal and unscientific experiment, responses to the question ‘Describe the feeling within this picture’ have included Pride; in fact it was the most popular response – around 40% of those replying. However, I also received replies such as smug, sanctimonious, disdainful, condescending, sneering, conquering and superior. Interestingly, although it was the strongest reply, less than half of those who answered me associated the image with pride. Perhaps it’s a particularly difficult thing to recognise, or I was dealing with people who had difficulty reading expressions, or it was a poor choice of photograph.

angryAlthough unscientific, I had tried to consider some of those points. The photograph is of a model with the brief of expressing ‘pride’ -one of a range of similar photographs.

The same group had little difficulty in associating the second photograph with anger, rage or fury. In fact 24 out of 25 read the face in that way. So is there something special about pride?

In fact, the more I read and examined this area, the more doubt I uncovered. Some psychologists considered pride to be an emotion in its own right. Others argued it wasn’t an emotion at all, but was a considered response to other behaviours. In any event, pride is an area which has very little in the way of serious academic research and the value it brings to an individual or society seems unsettled.

Pride Model

Emotional Generation Model

Most of the serious models use a model similar to that shown here. It argues that there are complex (hybrid) emotions and more primal (true) emotions. When considering pride, it argues that this follows an appraisal of how a person has responded to a concern and/or stimulus. That stimulus could itself be one of the more basic primal emotions such as fear or rage.

This model could also explain why we find these less complex, more primal feelings more easy to identify in the facial expressions of others.

However, the question of what purpose pride has, what it contributes remains in debate. The usefulness of fear and anger can be easily seen as part of the self preservation instinct, necessary in evolutionary terms for life itself. However, pride seems an almost self-indulgent nive to have. The nearest I could find to any form of credible theory was that it was a pseudo reward mechanism which may have been an early trigger for self-reflection. It may not give anything in itself other than a warm glow, but could reinforce reflective practice and potentially some of the underlying positive behaviours. Hold that thought for a moment!

Of course, in recent years Pride has taken on an altogether different meaning, particularly for the younger, gay or festival generations. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s a series of event championing equal rights for what was then called the ‘queer’ or homosexual population (there was no community recognised at that point) started to appear in major cities of the UK, most notably, London and Manchester.

Stonewall March

Stonewall March

Initially, these were  organised by Stonewall and they amounted to little more than an organised march with people dressed much as they would be if they were going to the cinema or theatre but with the occasional stonewall banner.

The purpose of the marches at that time was clear, equality in terms of rights, acceptance and integration into the wider community. As the 1980’s matured, the scourge of AIDS rose bringing a double challenge to the emerging gay community. Firstly, the emerging community was decimated by the arrival of HIV. Secondly and more challengingly, the natural fear of such a threatening virus seen as being born of the gay community brought a sense of ‘blame’ to that community further marginalising it in some quarters.

Manchester Mardi Gras 1996

Manchester Mardi Gras 1996

The Stonewall marches adapted as the eighties matured, these became more defiant and in some cases defiance veered towards the confrontational. However, these settled into a more educational and celebratory phase with accompanying name changes in most of the major events.

Manchester re-branded it’s celebrations as Mardi Gras with an increasing number of events emerging across the remainder of the country. Again, during this period the events had a clear purpose based around the battle against HIV/AIDS, the removal of clause 28 (perceived as homophobic legislation) and the promotion of ‘safe sex’. This continued through most of the naughties.

At that point my problems with these type of events started to grow. Arguably, the introduction of combination therapies leading to the effective management of HIV, the growing acceptance of homosexuality as part of mainstream society and the repeal of legislation such as Section 28 has removed the natural causes traditionally supported by such events.

Perhaps sensing this, Mardi-Gras and similar events started to diverge either competing with the growing festival scenes or becoming more of a celebration of an increasingly accepted homosexual lifestyle.  Mardi-Gras (along with most others) followed London by rebranding itself to first ‘Gay Pride’ and the simply ‘Pride’.

However, that acceptance and increased integration into mainstream lifestyle has at least for me sounded the first ringing of the death knell of Pride in its current form. In simple terms, they have lost their purpose and relevance for me.

Increasingly, these events have become more about being seen in gear, walking on the march (for reasons that are unclear to me) and consuming copious amounts of alcohol. They have also moved from the largely free events of the 1970’s to events in their own right often charging between £15 and £30 to gain entry.

Whist I have nothing against walking in the street, wearing gear or copious amounts of alcohol, I can do that in many places and don’t need to pay for the privilege of so doing. If the money raised during these events went to counter some of the modern battles facing the gay community I would have less of an issue. However, typically the collection funds the running costs of the events with just 3-5% going to related charities and good causes.

gmpprideFrom my perspective, the development of Pride events as a commercial event now has very little to do with its original purpose. Now, its much more about bringing in the cash (the cynics might say milking the pink pound).

The worst example I can think of would be Manchester Pride 2014 sad for a city that has contributed so much to equality. In that example, a large area of the city (the gay village) was blocked off with the right to enter, pass and re-pass without hindrance suspended – unless of course you purchased a wrist band grating you access. Residents were granted ‘permits’ to reach their own homes but everyone else was prevented from gaining access.

I would have no issue if this was a private place or related exclusively to venues taking part in the ‘event’. However this wasn’t the case and people were effectively being charged to access public roads as a pedestrian. The actions of the Council in 2014 in relation to the implementation of the road closure have since been found to have been unlawful by the local government ombudsman (details of the issue can be found here). By extension, the security contractors and Greater Manchester Police who enforced the orders found themselves in a difficult position one nobody wanted to repeat this year. How far from the original ambitions of those who first marched.

Loss of Direction?

Loss of Direction?

So, what’s my point? What have I got against Pride? To answer that we need to go back to the purpose of pride in psychological terms. Pride allows us to reflect on concerns and stimulus, assess and feel we have/are making improvements or contributing to their being improved.

Has Pride simply become just another reason to drink until you fall over and be seen in your best leather, rubber or just show off your perfect abs?

The historic educational component is largely gone, the supportive and community aspects have in my view started to go the same way. Are there no  longer any issues for the gay community to address and raise in the public consciousness? I haven’t seen anything, for example, to support those struggling with the emergence of ‘chem sex’ within the gay community. An increasing dependence on chrystal meth and similar chemicals can be life shattering for some and there is precious little support for anyone wanting to give up outside London. Similarly, there is barely any educational or community support visible at any modern pride.

Isis throw men from tall buildings for being gay

Isis throw men from tall buildings for being gay

So is it just the case that the political scene for LGBT communities is now so settled that there is nothing left to fix?

Whilst it may be the case that things have improved incredibly over the past couple of decades in the UK, that is far from true in the rest of the world.

In the most extreme examples, ISIS are executing men by throwing them off multi storey buildings just for being gay. So far in 2015 there have been over 200 documented cases.

In less extreme examples, there are still significant issues of equality to be tackled both within the UK and internationally. These include the failure to recognise same sex partners as next of kin in many jurisdictions, the inability to marry or enter into civil partnerships in countries including Australia and unfair dismissal due to sexual orientation.  These would seem to indicate that the battle isn’t quite yet won. Yet on these points, Pride is typically silent in favour of stalls selling often over-priced  tat.

If the human state of pride is a psychological mechanism allowing reflection and improvement then I hope organisers of the various Pride events might take a lead from that example. Surely we can do better than what has been described as ‘just another piss-up in the park’. For my money until the modern day Pride events offer more than just another booze-up then it’s legitimate to ask exactly what is the point of pride?

Manchester Pride ? Some serious shortcomings

23/08/2014

Before moving to the substance of this posting, I want to acknowledge the efforts made by many Greater Manchester Police officers to ensure good relations with the LGBT community. Similarly, in previous dealing with PGH security and Manchester city council, there have been many capable and sincere members of staff. However, the way in which aspects of Pride 2014 were handled have (in my opinion) left all parties appearing sub-standard and may – again rightly in my view – bring the current structure of Pride into account.

Again, I recognise the good work and contribution to a number of charities made by Manchester Pride. However, that isn’t the issue at the heart of my criticism. A fairly minor, some would argue pedantic but important point of law appears to have been selectively ignored and overlooked because it challenged the business model of Pride.

Manchester Pride

Manchester Pride

To give non Manchester (or UK) readers some context here is a little background. Manchester Pride (having grown organically from Mardi Gras) is one of the north west’s largest and most successful celebrations of gay, lesbian and transgender lifestyles. It raises funds for a variety of charities and is focused around the ‘gay village’ in the city.

An area of the village is fenced off with security controlling entry and exit to the area. This is managed by buying a wrist-band for the evening (or weekend). If you have a wrist-band you get in – if you don’t have one then move along please.

Many (though not all) of the premises within the fenced off area are gay venues taking part in the Pride celebrations. However, there are also residential blocks, a few convenience stores, some fast-food restaurants and some venues not taking part in the event.

This situation has been in place for some years (10+) and hasn’t in fairness caused a problem. However, a few people started to ask the basis on which public streets could be fenced off and an entry fee charged to enter the zone. Many (including some council and police personnel) simply reverted to answers which were (in terms) – ‘We’ve always done it like this and nobody’s complained before’. Whilst that may be true, it doesn’t make it a credible legal basis for justifying the restrictions.

Right of Way

Right of Way

A small but persistent and competent group were unconvinced by this answer and started researching the legal basis for the closure of the roads. There was no dispute over the closure of the roads to vehicles – but could pedestrian access be prevented where there is a right of way over public roads.

There is no requirement in UK law to explain why you wish to walk down a particular public road nor where you are going at any particular point in time. Those protesting the closure of the gay village remained unconvinced and sought guidance from the Department of Transport who are ultimately responsible for the legislation covering road closures by local authorities.

Advice from staff within that department was clear. The road could be closed to vehicles for Pride under the legislation. However, any attempt to extend this to pedestrians or operate a two-tier pedestrian entry system based on whether or not you wore a wrist band was beyond the scope of the legislation. In simple terms, members of the public could still exercise their right of way through the closed off roads.

Several exchange of letters then followed between local council, police, protestors, organisers and interested parties. It appears clear that all parties became aware of the Department of Transport position. Reassurances were issued by both the police and the council that rights of way would be respected.

Fast forward to the day itself and (as shown in this and related vidoes) contracted security staff can be seen running the entry point gates. Whilst acknowledging the letter from the Department of Transport and despite the previous assurances from councils, organisers and the like the right of way is denied and the zone is described as holding a ‘private party’.

Whether or not a private party was indeed taking place (which is disputed) this doesn’t explain why contractors believe they can prevent anyone walking down a public road. It wouldn’t impose a requirement that the public explain where they are going or why. Nor would it provide a power to prevent residents (or visitors to residents) returning to their own homes without being ‘accredited’ and sanctioned by the organisers of Pride.

In the four videos which record some of the protestors encounters police are seen nearby but not getting involved in the matter in any way.

At one point the senior contractor repeatedly refers all questions to the website for the organising group for all questions, complaints, criticisms etc. However, it also appears that they were unwilling to engage with the substance of the challenge, nor were the police willing to engage with the protestors which of course only made the situation worse. Interestingly, the approach of police personnel was reported as variable depending on who was on duty and what advice had been given by local briefing Inspectors.

Regardless of the merits (or not) of the protestors case, the rather heavy handed and paternalistic view of the contracted stewards is deeply unattractive. Similarly, the police appear (at least to me) to have abrogated their responsibility to uphold the law impartially. I acknowledge the complexity of managing a major event and there is certainly an element of proving a point by the protesting group. However, simply ignoring members of the public wishing to exercise their right to walk the public street and seeming to side with organisers in the face of both legislation and common sense seems unlikely to be the best approach.

I doubt this story which can be followed here will simply go away over the coming weeks. The larger issue of closing public roads and spaces for community event is actually quite significant. My personal view is that an objective review of this incident would find the behaviours of both some contracted staff and some police officers to be wanting and inadequate at best – potentially unlawful at times. The circumstances also call the business model of Pride (and similar events) into question. I suspect we may see some significant changes to the future shape of community events of this type in future years.

A solo on the homophobe

20/08/2014

No Pity

No Pity

I had a very interesting conversation with a former colleague today. Unfortunately, it made me realise that fear of homosexuality and misunderstanding around what for me is a natural state of affairs has still some way to go before it is a thing of the past.

I  was aware that he wanted to talk to me as he was hanging around the reception area for the office I was visiting for no apparent reason. A few perfunctory exchanges about this weekend, last weekend and ‘what I’d been up to’ followed before I was challenged (most politely) about who this new chap in my life was?

I explained he was the most important person to me and I was extremely happy to be in a relationship with him. The look of patronising pity which crossed his face was overwhelming. Actually, it was me who probably felt most pity – that he couldn’t accept I may have found happiness with someone who just happened to be of the same gender.

The final blow was the passing comment, meant to reassure me that my best interests were at the forefront of his mind. ‘I just feel so sorry for you both knowing that you’ll never know the sort of love I share with my wife.’

To say my gob had rarely been so smacked is something of an understatement. Why the gender of his partner should define the nature and intensity of the love he feels as opposed to that I feel for mine – well I can’t quite understand the logic.

I had hoped this kind of narrow minded characterisation was a thing of the past. Clearly I was a little too hopeful in that regard.

For what it’s worth I couldn’t be happier than I am with my partner. His gender is not the issue, his humanity, compassion, love and respect are. I don’t require anyone’s pity and we’re doing just fine thank you very much.  If you can’t accept that then it’s better you write me off as a lost cause – because I have no intention of changing to ease your sensitivities.

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