Custom contrived: Pride

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I am planning to be controversial here! What decided what we call a custom? I wonder why folklorists happily describe the Leek Club parade as a custom and not say Pride, or once Gay Pride…yet Pagan Pride, a modern custom clearly based upon it is happily recorded in sites such as Calendar Customs…it is after all underlined by the same idea, a need to recognise the importance of the group and make everyone aware of it…the same reason behind the Club Walks as well of course. Furthermore it is a commemoration of an event another common custom theme. The dictionary definition supports the view:

“a traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place, or time.”

So I would reason that Pride (by the way no longer Gay Pride apparently as it includes such a range of sexualities and genders that that name is largely redundant) has a rightly place in a calendar of customs as it has many similarities – it is commemorates, it recognises…and like many customs it is colourful….very colourful in fact! Plus you might add that one of the themes, transvestism has already been largely covered by this blog!

So in a year which has seen some big legal changes in marriage equalities it worth considering this parade, which has gone from militant march to a crazy colourful carnival which has spread beyond its London confines to the provincial town of Manchester, Derby, Nottingham and beyond.

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Pride in the name of love

The first Pride was undertaken in 1972 on the 1st July. This date was chosen as the nearest Saturday to the date of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of Greenwich Village New York. This was a different time of course, in the wake of the more liberated swinging sixties…only in 1967 had the country seen legal changes and as Peter Tatchell, long-time activist notes:

We got mixed reactions from the public – some hostility but predominantly curiosity and bewilderment. Most had never knowingly seen a gay person, let alone hundreds of queers marching to demand human rights.”

Yet despite these reservations 2000 people attended the march continued, year after year. Through the 1980s when the Government introduced Section 28, when it became more militant…and on to the 1990s it was augmented by a large festival like party full of music.

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This is the most interesting thing about it, how Pride has changed over that relatively short time. Some may lament the change from Political to Party and the development of the Pink Pound with it! So it is clear that the Pride has turned from a march to a parade to carnival. Gone it appears have many of the political problems that created it perhaps – Section 28, equal rights, the need for acceptance, even the dread of AIDs once the all-conquering ‘Gay Plague’ as the media termed it, has become manageable. So gone have many of the militant banners and in its place more a celebration.

Pride no prejudice

One of the first things you notice are the hawkers – they appear to be a regular feature of many a custom these days – whether it is flashing lights at Guy Fawkes,  Flower garlands at Hastings Jack in the Green and here Rainbow flags, whistles and garlands…I do wonder whether these people turn up at Neo-Nazi rallies and what they bring!? After much honking and whistling and a cheer when the Fire brigade came by…the parade formed.

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Amongst the parade is the ultimate juxtaposition of characters: some rather amusing drag acts, vicars, police and football fans. The flying of the rainbow flags, blowing of whistles and the sound of pounding drums. The parade is clearly there to be seen! People line the route and fly their flag, laugh, smile and cheer it on – how things have changed from the 1970s!

Indeed as the parade passes the obvious thing that should strike the observer is that amongst the drag acts, colour and flag waving, is the obvious ordinary nature of the people…after all there is no real difference and if that’s the message we get that can surely be a good thing.

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