Does the increasing commercialisation of Pride make it any less meaningful?

Harry Hillery, a veteran of Prides past, on how Pride has changed, how he’s changed and why it’s still powerful

I moved to Brighton in 1988 to setup a small business and decided that setting myself free should also be part of the adventure. In London I’d lurked in the shadows, fearful of what people might think. 

This might sound over the top nowadays, but it was different then. I remember testing the water with a ‘friendly’ boss once, only to be told that if my news went public, any hopes of progression would evaporate if I wasn’t sacked first. So, I came to Brighton to be reborn and vowed to never lie about myself again. 

In 1991 I met Alf in the Black Horse and we soon fell very much in love. Looking back, I owe so much to his gentle nudges and knowledge of all things queer. He introduced me to new ideas, new writers and helped me navigate a new queer reality. My first Brighton Lesbian & Gay Pride with Alf was in May 1992 if memory serves. 

I remember how moved I was by the spectacle and how overjoyed I was to be holding hands with my boyfriend. At the time, Brighton was gripped by the AIDS epidemic and the fallout of Section 28, which made it doubly important to shout our presence and challenge a tsunami of hate and misinformation. 

As we walked along Western Road towards Churchill Square, chanting ‘we’re here, we’re queer, we’re not going shopping’ there was a tangible sense of loathing from the pavements, that sometimes turned into abuse or occasionally a missile. Although I was nervous and a little frightened, I felt a belonging that I’d never had before as a queer man – a kinship with those who’d trailblazed for me – Marsha P Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Antony Grey, Jackie Foster, Peter Tatchell. Lesbian & Gay Pride had to be loud and angsty to be heard above the din of hatred – we were under attack and our friends were dying. 

I haven’t been to a Pride event for many years now for a number of reasons. Apart from getting older and a general dislike for crowds and mess, for me that sense of kinship and a link to the past has gone. Dropping ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ in the title and the rebrand to Brighton Pride made me uneasy. Although queer as I prefer to call it is thankfully less siloed these days, the dropping of these words still felt like a watering down and a betrayal of sorts. A bowing down and compliance that was perhaps necessary to attract corporate sponsorship from banks and other institutions that would not have been welcome (or wanted to be associated with us) in days gone by. 

The event struggled for years due to alleged financial mismanagement and in fighting, so things had to change, but I for one would be happier if the activism backbone was more prominent and given centre stage. I recognise things are better now, but gay marriage and the proliferation of rainbow flags to sell anything and everything, hasn’t made everything OK. 

Our hard-won rights can be taken from us in a heartbeat, and there are many out there who still wish us harm. Queer Pride (or LGBTQ Pride if you prefer) is not just about getting horny and high or listening to Britney Spears, it’s about kinship and remembering how we got here. There’s also still so much more to do – look at all the venom around Trans rights for example – that’s surely what ‘Pride’ still needs to focus on. 

On a final positive note though, it is wonderful that Pride is now so fully embraced by the city. It’s also wonderful that it raises such large amounts of money to help organisations close to my heart like Lunch Positive and Mind Out continue their amazing work. And lastly of course, whatever we call it, it continues to be the best of parties, and a great excuse to be loud and proud.

Editorial: Why Pride is like a shark

There’s a curious thing about sharks. Sharks must always move forward. Their gills – the way they breathe – are designed in such a way that if there’s no forward motion, they don’t work. So they must move forward. The only shark that doesn’t move forward is a dead shark. And who wants to be a dead shark?

Brighton Pride is something to be proud about. It’s one of those things that makes Brighton what it is, one of the reasons we live here. But everything changes, and rather like Glastonbury, the world is divided between those who say “Oh, it’s not like it used to be” and those who, for their own reasons, are happy it’s there. 

Pride began here in 1972, a demonstration by The Sussex Gay Liberation Front… Don’t worry, we’re not going to go into the history of Pride – that’s what Wikipedia’s for – but suffice to say it’s very different now. A weekend wristband to the St James’s Village Party is £27.50, a ticket to “We Are Fabuloso” at Preston Park to see Christina Aguilera is £54.50 – £67.50 if you get the weekend pass. Of course, it’s not like it used to be.    

Politics and commercialism are uneasy mates. They’re often suspicious of each other. Must it be that way? Must money ruin the spirit? At the first Pride here there were 2,000 people. This year there’ll maybe be half a million. Has Pride strayed too far from its roots and become another party on the calendar, next to Fatboy on the Beach and whatever else? 

Should all the acts be gay? I remember how Live Aid was criticised for being too white, for having no African bands. If we were raising money for Africa, the argument went, should we not have been celebrating African music and culture instead of listening to a lot of white chart acts? But a lot of money was raised, a lot of people were helped. So should all the artists be gay? Or are we celebrating togetherness, celebrating being us? 

Nothing is ever the same as it was. Life, like the shark, always moves forward. And Pride, just like Glastonbury and the others, just gets bigger, gets more popular, becomes mainstream, part of a wider culture.

None of this is to say that we should think the battle’s won, that the story is over, that that was then and this is now. The battle’s never really won. It never stops. We only have to look at the resurgence of antisemitism under the last Labour leadership to know how fragile our safety is. We’re safe now, but we should never forget that living in Brighton in 2022 is a privilege, that we’re just lucky enough to be born into a time and place where glitter’s not a crime. 

Maybe we should just enjoy how great is it that half a million people can come and celebrate together, drink together, dance together. How great that the only murder is gonna be is on the dancefloor. And you’d better not kill the groove DJ, gonna burn this goddamn house right down… 

View From The Hill – Nicholas Lezard

How did you spend the Great Heatwave of 2022? I spent it paddling in the sea and running contraband over the Brighton-Hove border. I’ll start with the sea. It’s slightly less traumatic.

The thing is, that although I have been coming here since 1984, in the very week the IRA blew up the Grand (golly, I thought, is Brighton always this interesting?), and living here since 2018, I have never been in the sea here. Well, maybe once. But the memory is confused and dim and I might be imagining it. This time, though, I really did. 

I took off my shoes and socks, rolled my trousers above the knee, and stepped into the surf. It was about half past nine in the evening, and the breeze, such as it was, was coming from the North, that is, from the parched interior of the country. 

There were still plenty of people on the beach, at least one barbecue I could see, and, of course, bongo players. Did you know that the council hands out free bongo drums to everyone who moves here? I’ve yet to claim mine, but I think that’s rather charming.

One of the reasons I have always been reluctant to swim here, apart from the fact that the sea is incredibly cold, is the beach. I have lovely, delicate feet, and their soles are sensitive, so walking barefoot on the shingle is not one of life’s great experiences. 

I had been hoping that in the 38 years since I first came here, the action of the waves might have done something to turn the stones into sand, but it quite simply hasn’t happened yet. I mean, come on.

But then again … it kind of has. Go out at low tide and you’ll find that it actually is a bit sandy on the shore. (Incidentally, it took me half a century to realise that the singer Sandy Shaw’s name was a pun.) So I paddled around a bit; the water was Mediterranean-warm. That was a big surprise. But after a while there’s only so much paddling you can do before getting tired so I went back up the beach and lay down in a damp patch of stones, which was very welcome. 

Isn’t it nice how the beach slopes in such a way as to make a kind of natural divan or sun lounger? I had a smoke and looked at the lights of the Rampion Array blinking on the horizon. 

A dog ran around like crazy, at one point even kicking a couple of stones onto my head but he hadn’t done it on purpose so I took no offence. 

I knew I had a hill to climb when I turned for home, but somehow the knowledge that it was warm enough to sleep on the beach if I wanted made it all better somehow. God, living in this town is a privilege. And my stories of smuggling bongoes into Hove will have to wait for another day. 

Summertime by Amara Baldwin

Summertime!

It’s Summertime, it’s summertime,

It’s time to have ice lollies with lime!

Ice cream , ice creams everywhere,

Melting, dripping, we don’t care! 

Something humid in the air,

People tying back their hair,

Into the sea,

Come on friends, come play with me!

Jump off the paddle board, swimming free! 

We are all as happy as can be!

After school , let’s go and play, 

After a hot, angry, tiresome day,

“Let’s go on the swings!” my friends say,

So how do I reply?

OK! 

West Hill Writers – The Write Stuff

Just around the corner from the Seven Dials, down a narrow, hidden driveway, West Hill Hall plays host to one of the city’s most successful writing groups. The West Hill Writers have gathered these past few years to nurture voices and narratives and now they’ve gone public.


With much fanfare, they recently published “Brighton & Beyond”, a rich anthology of short stories featuring the city in all its complex glory, from 18 talented local authors. Relatable family and friendship dynamics mingle with dark folklore and fantasy. Queer perspectives and scathing social critiques rub shoulders with comedy, romance, historical fiction and magic realism. Animals play startling roles, and somehow, not one, but three distinctive takes on a circus emerge.


Anna Burtt, director of publishers West Hill Writers, said, “I am really proud of “Brighton & Beyond”. It’s a diverse collection of riveting reads and I’m sure there is something in there to be enjoyed by every avid reader, especially those who love Brighton.”


Authors include Ciar Byrne, Jane Crittenden, Kathleen Ford, Giacomo Gambone, Hilary Howard, Duncan Robert Illing, John Keenan, Pippa Lewis, Kate Marsh, Damian McCarthy, Becs Pearson, Paula Seager, J.E. Seuk, Fran Swaine, Mona Walsh, Maggie Winters, Sue Wood and J.E.C. Young. The very Brighton book cover, features an ice cream cone, and was designed by Patrick Knowles.


The WHW inspire each other through regular sessions with locally-based Anna Burtt who is head of events at Jericho Writers, hosts the Brighton Book Club on Radio Reverb, and is the director of the York Festival Of Writing. They create short stories, flash fiction, creative nonfiction and poems set in Brighton throughout the UK and around the globe, not to mention the past, present and speculative future.


The book launch for Brighton & Beyond was held in the Nightingale Room at the Grand Central Brighton, at the bottom of West Hill, and was a busy affair with books selling fast. Brighton & Beyond can be seen displayed on the shelves of books shops across the city.


They say everyone has a book in them, but here in West Hill, we’re proud to be home to a plethora of really accomplished writers and we wish them all success!


You can order the book direct at:
https://westhillwriters.carrd.co
or from book shops across the UK


There are still places available on the next West Hill Writers course – see linktr.ee/BTNBOOKCLUB