Last night, outraged by the announcement that the Red Arrows would be flying over London Pride this year, a coalition of queer and anti-war groups protested both in and outside London City Hall. A peace vigil was held, while activists distributed flyers and held “No Pride in War” placards. Both actions were based on stances on lesbian and gay participation in the military which differ from those of London Pride.
No Pride in War started as a campaign because people were shocked by news that London Pride 2016 will include a performance by the Red Arrows, and that the arms manufacturer BAE Systems will be in the parade.
The Red Arrows put on air shows, and act as the ‘public’ face of the Royal Air Force. In this capacity, they promote both recruitment, and sympathy for the British military.
The Red Arrows fly a version of the British Aerospace Hawk trainer aircraft. BAE is the UK’s largest arms manufacturer, and exports weapons around the world, including to the US, where it also manufactures major weapons systems.
British Aerospace is currently playing a major role in the Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen. Supplying everything from air-to-ground cluster munitions, to providing operational support for BAE Typhoon and Tornado fighter bombers flown by the Saudi Air Force, thousands of the company’s employees are stationed in the country, and play an active role in the country’s war efforts.
As activists and queer people, our group finds it deeply offensive that London Pride is providing a platform for the RAF, and BAE Systems, to promote themselves. We are people who believe in Pride, and how it marks the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
It is a contradiction of Pride’s own values, built on principled confrontations with hyperactive police, to essentially celebrate war. The Royal Air Force, and companies like BAE Systems, cannot be allowed to use Pride to appear queer-friendly, as though the human suffering that they cause is irrelevant.
Before hearing about the Red Arrows, and BAE Systems marching in the Pride parade, it was already concerning to see the increased corporate presence at London Pride. Invitations have been extended to financial institutions like Barclays Bank in recent years, in order to exploit the “pink pound.” Last year, even UKIP was invited, sparking protests.
Defenders of these moves will often say that these organisations have been inclusive of gay and lesbian members. However, whether or not people are individually able to express their sexuality is irrelevant to how these organisations actually behave. If London Pride isn’t willing to speak to the obvious problems of wealth inequality, and power imbalances, that Barclays, the RAF, and BAE Systems help generate, then what’s the point?
No Pride in War operates in the legacy of radical queer protest, and demands major changes in London Pride. Pride does not, and cannot, simply mean an apolitical party where people see no ethical problem with the presence of banks and armies.
It is essential that Pride-goers resist the temptation to indulge in what Jaspir Puar calls “homonationalism.” Puar argues that recent victories for LGBTQI+ people in countries like the United States have occurred on a backdrop of economic inequality, and aggressive foreign policy. Puar argues that as a result, there is currently “a constitutive and fundamental reorientation of the relationship between the state, capitalism, and sexuality.”
Puar argues that homonationalism is inescapable. Everyone is conditioned by it, and it shapes the world around us. However, it still possible to push against certain troublesome expressions of it. London Pride is just one opportunity to resist this new marriage between sexuality, and financial and military power. Celebrating and promoting war, and those firms that profit from it, is an affront to the values that LGBTQI+ movements have been built on.
We demand the unreserved withdrawal of the invitation for BAE Systems to march in this year’s parade, as well as the planned flyover by the RAF’s Red Arrows. Pride has always been an event that radically challenges gendered and sexual oppression. There can be No Pride in War.
Photographs courtesy of Clement Alloing and Matt Boner. Published under a Creative Commons license.