The Future of Pride/Mardi Gras

The case for community control in partnership with business, and for a free festival that promotes queer human rights.


This month’s heavily commercialised Mardi Gras was not as successful as the last community-run Pride march and festival. Despite its faults, Pride ’97 got nearly 100,000 people on the march and 300,000 at Clapham Common. Mardi Gras, in contrast, had only 25,000 marchers and 65,000 at Finsbury Park. Mainstream media coverage was down too.

What went wrong? Part of the problem was that Mardi Gras was de-gayed, profit-driven and de-politicised. The 78-page official programme contained only three minor references to it being a lesbian and gay event. There was no sign above the stage at Finsbury Park identifying Mardi Gras as a gay festival or supporting our claim for human rights. The community spirit and loyalty that inspired Pride for 28 years was killed off by commercialism and the £10 entry charge to the festival. The failure to make the 30th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots a centrepiece of Mardi Gras was a lost opportunity for big-time media coverage.

How do we move forward? The rebranding of Pride as Mardi Gras should be scrapped. It was imposed without the agreement of the lesbian and gay community. Why copy Sydney and steal from Manchester? Let’s keep the name Pride and be proud of its history.

Most importantly, the whole event needs to be bought back under community control, through a representative committee of gay groups working in partnership with gay businesses. This community coalition should take the key policy decisions, but appoint professional experts to administer the event.

The last thing I want is a dull, dour Pride. Why can’t we have a combination of fun and politics? Keep the carnival atmosphere, but give our campaign against discrimination a higher profile. Pride should have a specific human rights theme, such as “Repeal Section 28”. This should feature in all advertising and press handouts, on the lead banner on the march, and as a giant slogan above the main stage at the festival. This would give the event a stronger focus and improve the likelihood of news coverage.

The march should be re-routed to start at Embankment and end with the festival in Hyde Park. Moreover, if Pride is to be a fully accessible community festival, it must be free. People from outside of London spend a fortune on fares. The extra burden of an entry fee is unfair. Pride should be about community solidarity, not commercialism.


Jason assumes that a private business consortium should run Mardi Gras. But many people believe Pride is a lesbian and gay community event and should be controlled by the community for everyone’s benefit, not private profit. We want a democratic organising committee of gay community groups, gay businesses and individual lesbians and gays.

Mardi Gras’s organisers are also wrong to suggest that a free festival is not financially viable. It could be funded as follows: voluntary donations (£150,000 was collected at Pride ’97); the sale of licences for food, drink, fun-fair, stalls and dance tents (£150,000); corporate sponsorship from big-name, gay-friendly companies (£150,000); a huge all-night dance party at Olympia with 25,000 people paying £20 each (£500,000), and a similar massive dance party in mid-Winter (£500,000). Grand total: £1.45 million. With these funds, the festival can be free and Pride could even raise money for gay charities.

Published as “The Great Festival Debate”, Pink Paper, 16 July 2000.

Copyright Peter Tatchell 2000. All rights reserved