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The Price of Pride

The Commercialisation of Pride Marches


By Durga Sharma

Pride Flag at a March
Image: Christian Gutiérrez Martínez via Pexels

Pride Month: born out of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising. The pride movement has since grown exponentially with marches being held across the world, plus major support in recent years from corporate companies, including BP, Google and Coca Cola. However, their silence outside June prompts the question of whether corporations are doing enough, or falling down the side of “rainbow-washing”.


First, some background. On the 28th June 1969, the New York Police Department raided the Stonewall Inn, a known LGBT Bar in Manhattan. The raid descended into rebellion, catalysing a civil rights movement which had long been simmering just below the surface. Pre-Stonewall, Reminder Day Pickets were held by the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organisations (ERCHO) on the 4th July each year from 1965 to 1969. The first pride marches were held on the 28th June 1970 in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago following a 1969 ERCHO Resolution to commemorate Stonewall. At the same time, branches of the Gay Liberation Front formed across the UK, with the first demonstration on the 27th November 1970. The first official pride march was held in London on the 1st July 1972, and this grew until pride events became a regular occurrence across the UK. Whilst overall there has been a reduction in levels of violence, it is noteworthy that the route of Belfast Pride 1991 had to be kept secret to guard against counter-protestors.


What is rainbow washing, and why is it an issue?

Defined by Fair Planet, rainbow washing is “using rainbow-themed symbolism… without active support of LGBTQ+ people’s identities or rights”. It highlights finance-based motives for so-called solidarity, especially when involving production in countries that do not support or actively persecute the community. Donations to charities such as Galop, Just Like Us and Mind Out, working with LGBTQ+ businesses and calling for change via corporate platforms are great steps to take alongside sponsoring marches and producing limited merch.


But what needs to change? One of the biggest sticking points recently is the lack of movement on banning conversion therapy. Defined by the UN Independent Expert as interventions to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, conversion therapy is an incredibly damaging process. According to the UK Government National LGBT Survey, 7% of LGBTQ+ people have either been offered or undergone this so-called therapy, including 10% of asexual people and 13% of trans people.


It has been six years since the LGBT Action Plan’s promise to ban conversion therapy, but without success.

Previous proposals did not concern gender conversion, only sexual orientation, something the British Medical Association (BMA) have cautioned against. The BMA have condemned conversion therapy as being unethical and damaging, stating that it should be banned in all its forms.


The Ace in the UK Report defines asexuality as having little or no sexual attraction; this is viewed on a spectrum alongside aromanticism (little or no romantic attraction). The Report highlights the pathologization phenomenon, whereby someone is wrongly viewed as a problem. This becomes relevant when we consider the International Classification of Diseases 11 - ICD-11 for short - managed by the World Health Organisation. HA00 defines Hypoactive Sexual Desire Dysfunction as an absence or marked reduction in desire or motivation to engage in sexual activity. Sound familiar?


Although progress has been made with the removal of homosexuality from the ICD in 1977 and its declassification as a mental illness in 1992, this is not enough. Removing HA00 from the ICD would give legitimacy to asexuality, and prevent harmful mistakes from being made in the medical field. Although the World Psychiatry journal highlighted that HA00 should be diagnosed in reference to the individual and their preferences, Ace in the UK found cases of people’s asexuality being automatically assumed as an issue to be overcome; an abnormality. This perception combined with the danger of conversion therapy puts HA00 in direct contravention of the basic medical principle: do no harm. Overall, there is a need for education about this lesser known, but no less valid, identity.


Ace in the UK also highlights problems within reproductive health, with IVF demonstrating inherent discrimination. One of NHS England’s qualifying requirements for heterosexual couples is regular unprotected sex for two years. For some asexual couples, this is an impossible criterion. The only other option is to be diagnosed with a “psychosexual problem”, again incorrectly styling asexuality as a curable condition rather than a part of someone’s identity. This must change!


But the issues do not stop there; in order to access NHS treatment, same sex couples are required to have six rounds of artificial insemination to demonstrate infertility. Depending on the area’s integrated care board, this is usually self funded. This financial burden was recently referred to by the BBC as a “gay tax”. NHS Scotland does appear to have slightly better criteria: for heterosexual couples there must simply be two years of unexplained infertility, whilst for same sex couples the required six to eight cycles of donor insemination are NHS funded. However due to long waiting lists people are beginning to look elsewhere for artificial insemination, leading to another problem - exploitation.


There has been a worrying trend in recent years of same sex couples turning to self-appointed private donors who operate on sites like Facebook, offering their services for significantly less than private clinics are charging. However, these individuals cannot be trusted, and unfortunately some have exploited potential parents both financially and sexually. Other couples have begun to go abroad to seek treatment for a variety of reasons, including lower financial strain. However, they are still paying privately and taking on marked debt as a result.


Overall, it seems that the IVF criteria needs to be scrutinised: it cannot be right that such a significant minority of the population cannot access treatment on the NHS.

Pride marches are beautiful: having been to several, they are definitely worth being a part of. The history behind them is so rich, and something we should all be more aware of as a society; so much has changed for the better. Having said that, the march towards equality is part of a very long process which is by no means over, and in some ways is only just beginning. We all have a responsibility to contribute to this process, both as individuals and larger groups. Are corporate organisations really aware of what they are a part of and the impact they could have?


Pride is both a celebration and a reminder: of who we were, who we are, and who we are going to be.




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