Moments before Christina Aguilera was due on stage for the climax of the long-awaited Saturday of Brighton Pride 2022, our host for the day, Brighton drag queen Lola Lasagne, gave a rousing speech. Acknowledging the day’s success and the relief that finally, after the last two years’ cancellations, Brighton Pride’s 30th edition had gone ahead, she addressed the current state of the event. It had been suggested, she told us, that Pride was no longer a protest, it was just a party, just a concert. Having wandered through the afternoon’s parade and the festivities at the Preston Park site into the evening, one could understand why this might be said. As the sun beat down, the glitter glistened and the music boomed from all corners of the site, there was seemingly little being shouted about. But, as Lola went on to demonstrate, the tradition of protest is still very much alive at the heart of Pride.
A key element of Pride’s protest is visibility. As Lola put it, the existence of Pride is in itself a protest. A two-day festival attended by hundreds of thousands of people, where LGBTQ+ people are celebrated and at the forefront of the programme is impactful by the very fact of its prominence. Even in our liberal city, having a day where everyone can have the freedom to be who they want to be and celebrate that together is of great importance. But moments of more explicit protest are important too.
Following Lola’s speech, a short film was beamed onto the main stage screens to the soundtrack of queer anthem, Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy, immediately transporting us back to a less rosy time for the LGBTQ+ community. Starting in 1969 at the Stonewall riots, the catalyst for what became a global protest movement, the film charted the progress of LGBTQ+ history, showing how far we’ve come as a society but also the iniquities suffered along the way. Right up to recent times with the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016, the sharp rise of homophobic and transphobic hate crime in the UK after the pandemic, and the UK government’s recent step-backs making it more difficult for people to undergo gender transition, the film sent a stark message that the spirit of Pride must not only be celebration but awareness of the difficulties still faced in the UK and around the world.
The morning’s parade, a joyful carnival of colour that threaded through Brighton’s packed streets, had its moments of protest amongst the more generic messages of support. Notably, there was poignant gravity given to the current plight of Ukraine from several delegations draped in light blue and yellow. Then, as in this year’s London Pride, just before the representatives from the police, a line of campaigners waved signs with slogans such as “NO COPS IN PRIDE” in protest of the deaths of LGBTQ+ people in custody.
The floats and delegations ranged from small enthusiastic groups like Brighton Table Tennis Club and the Sea Serpents RFC, Brighton & Hove’s rugby team for Gay, Bisexual and Transgender men, to the more lavishly performative allyship of larger corporations, whose rainbow-washed logos can still seem to be promoting little more than their own brand. However, one exception came from the unlikely source of Hove hardware store Wickes. Their float featured signs with strong messages of protest against transphobia: “No LGB without the T” and “Ban Conversion Therapy for ALL”. Social media went crazy for it, with delighted DIY converts posting all over TikTok and Instagram, whilst the Telegraph ran with a baffling accusation of homophobia against the company based on the questionable opinions of members of the anti-trans lobby group LGB Alliance.
It all led to Preston Park where the day’s ticketed entertainment continued. Ru Paul’s UK Drag Race fan favourite Tia Kofi opened the main stage with her house-infused original songs and salt of the earth humour. Fellow drag race queen Bimini graced the stage later on with their rowdy punk songs and outrageously revealing outfits. Other up-and-coming pop stars on the line up included L Devine, whose song Daughter, an emotional anthem about her first same sex relationship was one of the day’s most moving moments. With the lyrics “It goes against everything you taught her, but I’m sorry, miss, I’m in love with your daughter”, it must have struck a chord with many in the crowd. Another highlight in the stage’s lineup was Raye, who fizzed with energy, feeding off the crowd’s excited reactions to her party-ready repertoire of top tier pop songs.
It was all building of course towards the superstar event of the day, Christina Aguilera, who didn’t disappoint with a pyrotechnic set of mega hits covering her whole career from the song that launched her into the public eye, Genie in a Bottle, through her personal Spanish language songs, to inclusivity anthem Beautiful, which rounded off the Saturday’s Preston Park festivities. At one point a video was beamed from the stage describing the impact of the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” law which bans public school teachers from engaging in classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity. Her dancers held up signs encouraging the crowd to instead “say gay” in what was another rousing moment of support for the community, proving the strength of the ethos of protest that continues to run through the core of Brighton Pride.