When I think about what Pride means to me, it seems now that the word has become so abstracted that its original meaning, if there is such a thing, has ceased to be reflected in its manifestation. This has become particularly apparent in my recent disillusionment with the development of the event in my hometown, branded Manchester Pride Festival – four days of ticketed live music events, parties, and a parade full of rainbow-toting corporations. It has led me to ask myself: who is this really for?
This is a question that Ashley Joiner’s illuminating documentary Are You Proud? asks. It is a film that explores the beginnings of what would become LGBT Pride in cities all over the world, focusing largely on its legacy in the UK. Most of us know that Pride began with Stonewall, but the fact that the latter was a riot – a direct and desperate response to homophobic and transphobic violence – has largely been phased out of modern commemorations of the event. Are You Proud? casts a necessarily critical lens on a phenomenon that seems to have forgotten the activism upon which it was founded.
Joiner’s film is constructed from interviews, archival material, and new footage shot at various UK Pride festivals. Words from older activists paint an illustrative history of LGBTQ activism and the importance of remembering those who have fought and died before us. This foregrounds the film’s focus on one simple fact: the fight is far from over. Despite the comparative freedom many of us enjoy in the UK today, Are You Proud? argues that the fight for liberation is not won until all of us enjoy that freedom. This is exhibited by the emergence of alternative pride marches and protests, from Brighton Trans Pride, which highlights issues specific to transgender people, to the inaugural Peckham Pride, which emphasises the intersection of LGBTQ rights with those of immigrants.
Through these events, our eyes are opened to the multitude of inequalities still experienced within the LGBTQ community itself. We must ask of ourselves – if we are prepared to fight for our own rights, are we prepared to fight for the rights of others? In terms of intersectionality, Are You Proud? is certainly one of the most comprehensive and incisive documentaries on LGBTQ rights that I have seen. Discussions of racism, transphobia, and ableism are all too often omitted from mainstream activism that begins and ends with marriage equality. The film even questions the involvement of the UK and other ‘western’ countries in LGBTQ activism on a global scale as a form of cultural neo-imperialism, used to condemn nations we deem less progressive than ourselves. These are uncomfortable but vital things to address.
As well as asking us to be self-critical and reflect inwardly on our relationships to Pride and our identities, Joiner’s documentary reminds us that we do have so much to be proud of. Jubilant scenes from UK Black Pride and London’s Queer Picnic show that marginalised people can come together and celebrate Pride in their own inclusive way, rather than have pinkwashed consumerism drown out their voices. Are You Proud?, much like these events, is sincerely representative of the values of Pride: remembering who we are, where we came from, and how far we still have to go.
by Megan Wilson