BY ROSIE GAMMON
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…
For a lot of queer people, Brighton Pride is like Christmas. It’s the one of the biggest (and, some will say, the best) Pride event in the country. This year, estimated numbers of attendees ranged from 300,000 to 450,000. With so many people flocking to our small city, it was impossible to escape the revelry.
But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. For bi people, and people of other marginalised queer identities, Pride events can sometimes feel isolating. I’m a bisexual woman, and this year I attended Pride with my girlfriend. I always feel welcome and valid when I attend queer events with her, but I know that this is because most people will assume I’m a lesbian. I never attended Pride while dating my ex – a cis, straight man – but I often wonder how different that experience would have been.
Bi and pan people are the largest group within the LGBTQIA+ community, and yet we are one of the most invisible. The fact that so many people still insist on calling it ‘Gay Pride’ is just one example of how marginalised queer identities continue to be erased.
With this in mind, I took to social media to ask bi+ people: ‘What was your experience of Brighton Pride 2018?’
Many of the people I spoke to mentioned the huge lack of visibility. Faye, who grew up in Hassocks, felt “very under represented”. She said, “I couldn’t find anywhere to buy [a bi flag] and it made me really sad that I wasn’t very included in the celebration”. Catherine, who was visiting Brighton Pride for the first time this year, said, “I’m pan, but at Pride I sometimes feel like I’m just there as an ally”.
Brighton resident, Jess, told me that she “experienced moments of proper erasure” both during and after the festival. She marched with LwiththeT, a pro-trans activist group who led the Brighton Pride parade in response to the transphobic protestors who hijacked the London parade a month previously. When a popular queer media outlet reported on it afterwards, they described LwiththeT as a group of “trans women, trans men, non-binary people, lesbians, and gay men,” failing to include bi people in the list. The error was quickly fixed after Jess complained. However, the omission is demonstrative of general attitudes that bi+ people face from within the community.
Jess also commented on how the increasing depoliticisation of pride is hurting our community’s most vulnerable members. “A lot of the issues I faced during Pride as a bi person were about the wider shift away from LGBTQIA+ politics and towards commercialisation and pinkwashing,” she said. “I saw rainbow flags in every window and felt alienated, not welcomed, because I know to them it meant gay and possibly lesbian, but never bi or trans.”
Like other big Pride festivals across the world, Brighton Pride has faced criticism in recent years for becoming increasingly commercialised. Most controversially, this year’s sponsors included British Airways, who are currently involved in the deportation of queer asylum seekers. What began as a political protest is now a corporate-funded party with an incoherent ideology.
One side effect of this is that Pride has become increasingly more attractive to cis/het people. These visitors don’t always act respectfully whilst in our spaces, which understandably makes many members of our community feel frustrated and angry.
However, this anger can often be misdirected at queer people. Brighton resident Reuben is “a bisexual trans man in a relationship with a bi/pan woman”, but he and his partner do not always feel welcome at Pride. “I’m always self-conscious that other LGBTQ+ people will perceive us as cis/het tourists who are just at Pride to get smashed,” he said. “It feels like my experiences as an LGBTQ+ person are being disregarded because I don’t have a male partner”. It’s impossible to guess someone’s gender identity or sexuality just by looking at them, and yet these assumptions are always being made.
Despite all this, there were some pockets of positive bi+ representation at Pride this year. Bi Pride UK marched in the Brighton Parade this year, providing some much needed representation. There were also some brilliant and inclusive community-led events at venues like The Marlborough. Nem, who was born in Brighton and describes herself as “queer on both the gender and sexuality spectrums”, said, “Pride this year beautifully helped me celebrate both those parts of me… I am proud of our city in general!”
CJ Jessup, who came down from London, said the place they felt “most welcome and seen” was at Gal Pals’ Queer Pride event at Komedia: “They had clearly made an effort to make it inclusive in certain ways: providing wheelchair access, having gender-neutral toilets, not overcrowding the venue,” they said. “Also I just heard great music that I associate with being queer myself, which I sometimes don’t find with ‘traditional’ gay bars.” Nights like this offer some respite from the constant lack of inclusivity at the official Pride events.
Considering that bi+ people face higher rates of domestic violence and mental health issues, big LGBTQIA+ events like Brighton Pride should be providing a necessary safe space for us. Pride should be a space for us to heal and to connect with our community. Unfortunately, however, we still have a long way to go before it feels like a space that’s designed for us too.