Page last updated at 05:43 GMT, Thursday, 2 July 2009 06:43 UK

Pride refuses to fall in downturn

By Tom Bishop
BBC News

People in London's 2008 Pride parade
Pride features a parade followed by speeches and performances

Thousands of lesbians and gay men are preparing to dance, protest and wear costumes to make your jaw drop at London's Pride on Saturday.

But has the economic downturn taken the shine off the colourful annual event?

Gay marches have been a feature of London summers since 2,000 people took part in the first UK Gay Pride Rally in July 1972.

The original marches were overtly political, inspired by the gay men, lesbians and transvestites who fought back following a 1969 police raid on New York's Stonewall bar, launching the gay liberation movement.

Thirty-seven years later Pride continues to mix the personal and the political in a parade through central London which becomes a flurry of placards, drag queens, gay families and beefy guys in tight shorts.

Pride London, the charity which has organised the event since 2004, said last year 825,000 people joined the parade or watched speeches and performers in Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square.

Boy George, R&B singer Michael Ashanti, rapper Chewy, Heather Small and the stars of West End shows Priscilla and Avenue Q are among those lined up to take part this year.

But as the recession bites, was it difficult to raise the £300,000 needed to stage such a lavish event?

Businesses hit

Soho Pride, a smaller event based around bars in London's traditional gay centre since 2004, has been postponed this summer due to a lack of sponsorship.

Gay newspaper The Pink Paper and magazine AXM recently became internet-only publications after a lack of advertising revenue and gay chain store Clone Zone cut its number of UK stores from 10 to four.

Gay Business Association director Stephen Coote said: "Gay people are still seen as having spending power - they take more holidays and buy more technology than straight people, for example, and are far less likely to have children.

"But this downturn is affecting everyone, so it is difficult to see where sponsorship for gay events will come from."

While London is the UK's biggest Pride festival, there are more than 70 "Pride" events around the country. Many are organised by volunteers and funded by charities and public bodies, while some are organised by bars and clubs to bring in extra customers, charging entrance fees.

2008 Pride parade in London

We decided that Pride was crucial - it is there for the community and it simply must exist
Patrick Williams, Pride London trustee

Pride London said it was determined to keep its event free to "unite people in a celebrative atmosphere" and "foster a sense of co-operation with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community".

Run by volunteers, it aims to raise as much money as possible from sponsors and donations.

Pride London also requires associated post-Pride club nights to hand over a proportion of their ticket sales.

Trustee Patrick Williams said: "A lot of organisations said they wanted to be involved in Pride this year but they couldn't provide the same level of sponsorship as in the past.

"As a result we had to look further afield for smaller amounts of funding from a greater number of sponsors."

Backers so far include soft drinks firm Coca-Cola, banking firm Lloyds TSB, the TUC, Rainforest Cafe and the Metropolitan Police.

In addition it received a £100,000 grant from London Mayor Boris Johnson, who helped launch the event earlier this week but will not take part on Saturday.

Despite economic uncertainty, Mr Williams said Pride London decided in April that this year's event would go ahead.

"We decided that Pride was crucial," he said. "It is there for the community and it simply must exist.

Boris Johnson at 2008 Pride festival
Boris Johnson gave Pride London a 100,000 grant but will not take part

"We have made great strides in a number of areas - such as civil partnerships and scrapping both Section 28 and the gay military ban - but there is still much more to be done."

Jane Czyzselska, editor of lesbian magazine Diva, agrees that Pride still has an important function.

"I was just looking at pile of letters from young readers who we assume 'have it so good' now," she said.

"They say they think they might be gay but they don't want to be because they feel frightened and alone. Some feel depressed or feel they can't tell their friends or families, and some hurt themselves."

She added: "I came down from Leeds for my first Pride in London and I remember how amazing it was to see so many people like me, who had similar experiences and felt the way I did."

Nevertheless this year's Pride has been described as "corporate", "meaningless" and "tokenistic" by political group Pride is a Protest, and "boring and bland" by Simon Casson, an organiser of alternative annual event Gay Shame.

In response to this Mr Williams said: "We want Pride to be as inclusive as possible, which is why we commit to keep it free despite the recession and to involve as wide and diverse a range of LGBT people as possible.

"But one event simply cannot please everybody, no matter how big Pride gets.

"Any critics will be very welcome to join the parade on Saturday where they can say and do whatever they want - as long as it is legal."

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