Pride and Prejudice in Tower Hamlets

© One Sunny Day
Posted: Wed Mar 30 2011

East End Gay Pride has been cancelled. What a wasted opportunity to challenge an enclave of homophobia

The cancellation of this weekend's planned East End Gay Pride is disappointing for a whole host of reasons. It's disappointing because, contrary to what was printed on those stickers, east London is not a 'Gay Free Zone', and a Pride event would have been a great way to show the homophobes that we're not going away. It's disappointing because, in spite of what some people have been saying, there is a problem with homophobic harassment and hate crime in the area, as many lesbians and gay men living and working there know only too well.

It's disappointing because, contrary to the allegations made by some on the hard left, most people who were planning to attend East End Gay Pride were doing so in good faith, and were not part of some right-wing conspiracy. And it's disappointing because, contrary to their public pronouncements, it appears that at least one of the people behind the event hadn't been entirely open with us.

Thanks to the LGBT Muslim group Imaan, it was revealed that one of the oganisers did have links with a far-right organisation. He resigned, and the event was called off. There had been a suggestion, supported by Imaan, that Pride London and other community groups might step in and take up the reins. But it wasn't to be. East End Gay Pride was cancelled. And then the accusations really started flying.

A reporter for one hard-left newspaper accused journalists who supported East End Gay Pride of having sympathies with far-right organisations. For the record, I do not have any sympathies with far-right organisations. What I do have is a firm belief that someone is innocent until proven guilty, and it wasn't until weeks after we began listing East End Gay Pride in Time Out that any such proof was provided.

Until this point, the people who were against East End Gay Pride had offered a number of objections, many of which I still find questionable. Some said that any demonstration of gay pride in the area was 'a provocation', and compared gays marching in Tower Hamlets to fascists. Strangely, many of those same people were happy to support last year's Hackney Pride, which also involved gay people marching in east London. I also happen to know several gay Muslims who were planning to attend East End Gay Pride. Are they fascists too?

Then there were those who said that there should have been greater consultation with the East London Mosque. Yes, the same East London Mosque where homophobic preachers have been invited to speak, though it says it has tightened procedures to make sure they're not welcomed any more. Even so, an (undated) video online showing Abdul Karim Hattin at the mosque playing a game of 'Spot the Fag' makes chilling watching.

And since when did we ask religious institutions about our right to protest against homophobia? Did we consult with Catholics about our right to 'Protest the Pope'? Pride events are about our right to live free from fear and prejudice, not about pandering to religious organisations.

When East End Gay Pride was cancelled, a colleague emailed me to say, 'This is a bad day for liberalism in London.' And in many ways, it was. Whoever was behind those 'Gay Free Zone' stickers must surely be laughing now. But I hope that from this, we can all move forward.

There are now plans for a Pride event in Victoria Park later this year. Maybe by then we'll have put aside our differences and the shameful suggestion that gay pride is 'a provocation'.

Religious homophobia is a provocation. Anti-gay attacks are a provocation. Those 'Gay Free Zone' stickers are a provocation. Gay pride is only a provocation to those who hate us.