Despite financial and city-approval difficulties that led organizers to drastically scale back festival plans for WorldPride in London, England, throngs of queer people and their allies turned out to march through the streets of the British capital on July 7.
After more than two years of planning, WorldPride organizers announced in the days preceding the event that there would be no vehicles or floats in the parade, that the march would begin earlier in the day, at 11am instead of 1pm, that all official events planned for Soho were cancelled, and that the festival stage event planned for Trafalgar Square would end at 6pm. The last-minute cancellations left many shouldering costs for float-building and travel to London.
Still, organizers are calling the event a success under the circumstances. After the march, thousands turned out in Trafalgar Square for the concert featuring Boy George, Corey Hart and Deborah Cox, among others.
There was also a symbolic passing of the torch from London organizers to board members and staff of Pride Toronto for the next WorldPride celebration, scheduled for 2014 in Toronto.
Plans for the London edition of WorldPride reportedly unravelled because Pride organizers didn't raise all the money needed to cover the costs of the events and because Westminster City Council and London Mayor Boris Johnson, declined to support the event completely.
Pride London organizers were short 65,000 pounds cash required by the city as an assurance. They managed to make up that shortfall with the support of Smirnoff and gaydar.com, says Pride London interim chair Tony Hughes, but by then council said it was too late for the event to proceed as originally planned.
"We raised enough pledges but not enough cash to deliver the assurances the city wanted for the event," Hughes tells Xtra. "They have never before withheld approval to Pride in a case like this. I don't know what their motivations are. I don't think they've been more difficult, they've just been more strict."
"The mayor of London has supported this event with 100,000 pounds of taxpayer money," says London assemblyman Andrew Boff. "He has gifted Trafalgar Square for the day and he is extremely supportive of the event. Remember, this is a community event. It has to be planned by the community themselves because that was the roots of Pride; it was gay people themselves coming together and marching together to show themselves to be proud to be out in London."
"The responsibility for the WorldPride shambles is partly down to the WorldPride organizers in London but also partly down to the mayor of London and Westminster City Council," says veteran queer activist Peter Tatchell. "They could have rescued the event at the last minute, but they chose not to do so."
The mood in the parade was nevertheless celebratory with a strong spirit of political activism.
"The corporate commercial aspect is much less this year, thank heavens," Tatchell says. "We've gone back to the roots of the original gay pride march in 1972."
"It's really wonderful that everyone is here, which is the crucial thing," says Pride Toronto executive director Kevin Beaulieu. "The community coming together in the streets and standing up to say who we are on a global scale is the most important thing."
Beaulieu says the Pride Toronto contingent has learned a great deal about how to organize an international Pride celebration during its visit to London.
"We have been planning for a couple of years and have two years ahead of us to make sure things are in place," he says. "As well as an amazing volunteer body, we also have five staff, which is something London doesn't have."
With files from Frank Prendergast.
With files from Frank Prendergast.