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30 June 2017

They may be tone-deaf, but Gay Pride’s posters won’t spoil the celebration

Yes, the London event has lost the plot a little – but it still matters.

By Eleanor Margolis

If Eurovision is queer Christmas, then Pride is queer New Year’s. While Eurovision is spent indoors with 6,000 calories worth of snacks and a (drag) queen’s speech (at some point, probably…), Pride is, for the most part, spent boozing in crowds and celebrating – as far as I’m concerned – yet another year of being gay. New Queer’s, if you like.

Like actual New Year’s, it can be tense. There’s a lot of pressure to have fun and, from the organisers’ side of things, I imagine there’s a lot of pressure to please everyone.

London Pride, for example, is a rainbow behemoth. Last year’s was attended by up to a million people. Which is beautiful and necessary, but also corporate and cringey. Every year, it seems, more and more FTSE 100 swinging dicks want to get on board with the Gay Thing and rake in that pink pound, no matter what their actual ethics are. And, every year, a lot of LGBTQ folk are quick to point out their hypocrisy.

This week I saw someone on Twitter slam YouTube for its rainbow adornment when, just this year, many of its users complained about their videos on same-sex relationships and coming out as trans were being filtered under “restricted” mode, which removes “mature” content. For New Queer’s, I guess, everyone wants in – but they’re free to be as bigoted as they like the rest of the year.

So, with its Barclays sponsorship and Nando’s float in the parade, London Pride is hardly radical. And, this year, nothing demonstrates its lack of radicalness, or even basic good taste, quite as much as its tone-deaf poster campaign. “Being homophobic is sooo gay,” says one particularly flamboyant poster. Which, it seems, tried to deliver a clever take on “gay” being used as a pejorative, misfired, and shot the whole organisation in the foot. See, “gay” is still a pejorative. Imagine an anti-racism poster that declared anti-Semitism to be “sooo Jewish”.

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I yelled an explanation of this poster at my mum, who was somewhere unknown in the house. “What the fuck?” she yelled back from what turned out to be the toilet, “why can’t they just stick with ‘it’s not a phobia. You’re not scared, you’re an asshole’”.

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She admits she stole this little pith nugget. It’s actually a quote misattributed to Morgan Freeman, which arose somewhere in the depths of Twitter. But still, my mum can at least remember better Pride slogans from the toilet than – I’m guessing – a roomful of ad creatives in Swedish-designed glasses.

Other posters in the series seem kind of obsessed with straight people. “Gay man, straight man. We’re all human,” says one. “My sister is gay. I’m straight. Together we’re graight”, says another. Which looks to me frighteningly like oh-so-downtrodden heteros trying to add an “S” to LGBTQ. (FYI, if attending Pride this year means acknowledging straight oppression then I’m out).

Interestingly, alongside these appalling posters, Pride in London is actually running a very moving TV ad (their first one), in partnership with Channel 4. This features parents of LGBTQ people tearfully apologising for the damaging things they said to their kids when they came out. It’s especially nice, in this case, that the shame is firmly placed on the homophobes and not, as is usually the case, on those coming to terms with their sexuality.

The genuine thoughtfulness of this campaign, alongside the dull and frankly quite cheesy clownishness of the poster ads, is kind of a head-scratcher. It’s almost like, as a social experiment, a group of straight people and a group of queers were asked to come up with Pride ads. And, inevitably, five minutes into the exercise the straights are arguing about the best way to include themselves.

Bad posters or not though, I will absolutely be going to London Pride this year. Yes, it’s lost the plot a little, but it still matters. Because, as the much better ad reminds us, if coming out is still a thing, we need to go out a million at a time. Even at the risk of getting brained by flying Nando’s merch. Happy New Queer.