Pride ’98 – back to grass roots!
The largest, and most visible ever, bisexual contingent joined the Pride march through London on 4 July. Allotted a place near the front, bi’s carry their own group banners as well as placards, marched behind a main banner calling for the scrapping of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988.
The Pride festival, pilloried for its commercial values and lack of inclusivity, failed to take place. At the time the festival was officially postponed, but has since been cancelled altogether. Just days before the march had faced a similar fate as Freedom UK’s paid stewards were withdrawn. However a coalition of lesbian and gay groups, with Stonewall at their head, stepped in to ensure that the march went ahead. A number of prominent members of the bisexual community were amongst the unpaid stewards.
The half-a-mile rainbow banner which led the march (photo: Jude) Whilst themed as a march against Section 28, there was also a good deal of celebration over the recent equalisation of the age of consent. The march was certainly smaller than previous years (the police claim only 17,500 attended, but are notoriously conservative) the atmosphere was widely agreed to be the best in some time. Not only were there the usual drag queens and other outrageously dressed participants, but the call for political change was evident throughout; the whistles outside Downing Street were deafening.
Afternoon picnicking in Hyde Park and drinking in on the streets of Soho gave way to the usual round of clubbing and partying into the early hours. All-in-all the event lived up to the true spirit of Pride: going back to grass roots, it was the people that made the event.
What happened to the Festival?
Freedom UK (FUK) won the organisation of the festival after the Pride Trust ran into financial difficulties. In BCN29 we reported how FUK had finally admitted there would be no bisexual tent this year. From there things moved on apace.
On 22 June, just hours before the crucial Commons vote on the age of consent, the festival was called off. All but one of the FUK directors resigned, announcing that they could not fund the festival; they had sold less than one third of the 100,000 tickets.
The remaining director, Matt Williams, then indicated that the festival would take place on 15 August, a claim which was received with a great deal of scepticism. Soon after the march, Williams conceded defeat and announced that the promotion company was being wound-up.
Whilst there are always many factors in such a business failure, it is apparent that many queers reacted negatively to the new commercial emphasis surrounding the festival. The introduction of an admission charge for the first time was not the full story; there was a clear shift of values when FUK became involved.
Anyone who bought tickets should contact FUK without delay. Some compensation may be forthcoming, but unfortunately full refunds are unlikely.