In a surprise development last night, Phil Burke the chairman of the Village Business Association issued a statement.
In it he says that that there is now a widespread feeling amongst those people who attend Manchester Pride, and local businesses, that the event is no longer a celebration of the LGBT community and the gay village but actually all about marketing and money making.
He describes Marketing Manchester — aka the tourist board and the organisation behind Pride — as ‘dictators’ who ‘revel in the power that they wield’.
The Village Business Association (VBA) is the body that represents businesses in Manchester’s gay village. Some of Mr Burke’s comments have been reported on the Manchester Evening News website, although it didn’t publish his full statement.
The Evening News sponsored this year’s Manchester Pride and has a long history of publishing massively over-inflated attendance figures for the event — either deliberately to prop up the status quo who run Pride, or due to lazy journalism.
Congratulations to Phil Burke for speaking out. This is going to cause the most almighty storm, but could ultimately see welcome changes and an end to Marketing Manchester’s involvement in our Pride.
If you’re unhappy with the current set up and think that Pride could and should be something different, this is the time to speak out, write letters and post your comments on the internet.
Read my own detailed investigation into Manchester Pride — who runs it, where the money goes and who benefits most.
Phil Burke’s statement in full
Manchester Pride 2008
As the Chair of Manchester Village Assocation I wanted to write this letter a while ago, after a very long time of consideration and frustration, but decided to let sleeping dogs lie.
However, I have now been asked and urged to write it by so many people that I have been left with no choice. It is with no pleasure or hidden agenda that I do so.
The subject matter is unfortunately Manchester Pride, or rather the organisation and running of Manchester Pride. A number of the businesses have requested, no demanded, that this debate is opened and resolved.
The general feeling amongst the businesses, and a vast number of attendees, is that we no longer have a Manchester Pride that is an annual celebration of the LGBT community and The Gay Village. What we now have is Marketing Manchester’s Pride!
It has become an annual excuse for the organisation behind Pride to become dictators and revel in the power that they wield. Businesses are held to ransom over contributions, accreditations become more cumbersome and complicated, legally granted licences are revoked, litt le or no input is asked for, or actually wanted, from the very businesses that are the life blood of the whole event, and the VBA is at best tolerated and apparently seen more of a hindrance.
You would think that a charity driven event would actively encourage and search for advertising opportunities, the more people that know and are interested in an event then the more people attend and buy wristbands?
This alas is not the case with Pride. Businesses are actually dictated to that they cannot advertise Pride or use the logo before paying a very sizeable donation to them. You will not be listed or appear anywhere on the website either. Blackmail I believe is the word.
As we all know, and are extremely grateful for, The Village has a number of independent and small operators. It is these very independent and usually flamboyant people who keep The Gay Village fresh and alive 365 days a year .
Yet these are the very businesses that are penalised and punished by Pride for not having the ready cash flow of a large multi national operator, who can pay up their branches contribution easily. Small businesses sometimes rely on the Big Weekend itself to fund their contribution, so therefore get absolutely no support, no listings, no encouragement and no help from Pride because they haven’t paid up.
Surely an organisation that is in existence purely because of the businesses that started the whole thing off would want to support those businesses. Again this is not the case. What could and should be a community driven event is now a purely commercial operation, with absolutely no regard or thought given to the community itself. Established Gay Village operators are shunned and overlooked for non entity, non gay organisations that just have bigg er purses.
One of our established operators wanted to add a fairground ride into the site, at their own expense and in a location of Prides choice, an idea that the VBA fully and vocally supported, and yet was refused.
Obviously because Pride needed yet another food concession on every available spare metre. One of the residents on Bloom Street was actually refused entry to their own owned property because 2 passes had already been issued (to the lodgers in his spare room by the way), so he bought a pass rather than deal with the rude jobsworths at accreditation.
The VIP tent was blatantly only there for Marketing Manchester to entertain their clients and friends, as none of the businesses got any passes! One of The Gay Villages most prominent and we ll known pers onalities was physically attacked by the Pride security back stage, as he was about to go on, for free, on his own time. This person has been involved with Manchester Pride since day 1, and has been very instrumental in helping to create the very village we see today. Yet apparently in the new order of ‘pounds over poofs’ this means nothing.
And the tales and stories go on and on, each detailing how the corporate face and commerciality of Pride is blatantly and forcibly enforced over and above the community and its participants.
Lets make no mistake that Manchester Pride is a hugely successful event, and long may that continue. But maybe its time to stop trying to turn it into a Reading Festival, the V Festival or a mini Glastonbury.
This event was created as a celebration of being gay, a chance for the gay community to revel and wallow in the fact that we do indeed have a famous Gay Village and a thriving huge and loyal base. The event is very important….the philosophy and ethos behind it is far more so!
As the spokesman for the VBA it is my job to ensure that the businesses are heard, and the feeling now is actually so strong that we demand to be heard and we demand an open, transparent and fair debate on where we go from here. Without the businesses there is no Pride, so I now publicly and openly challenge them to join us in this debate and help us all ensure that Manchester Pride enjoys and celebrates another 18 years.
UPDATE (30 August 2008, 15.45)
The charity Body Positive North West issued the following statement, according to the canal-st.co.uk website
BPNW would like to give its full and unequivocal support to the content of the statement issued by the Chair of the VBA raising concerns about Marketing Manchester’s “Manchester Pride”. The articulate, considered, temperate and thoroughly useful statement issued by the VBA has finally opened a long-overdue debate.
BPNW is a service user led-organisation; the largest Body Positive remaining in the UK and, some might suggest, a relatively small HIV charity in both local and national terms supporting 1,300 clients across the North West of England. We work operationally directly with people and are not part of the corporate AIDS industry. As such we have empathy when your statement refers to multi national operators versus small businesses. A large proportion of gay men accessing our services are the same gay men who socialise in the village. We encourage our service users to air their views on issues affecting their lives. Over the past couple of years a number of service users at BPNW have aired concerns about the evolution of Manchester Pride from a community event to an overwhelmingly commercial one. We are aware gay men living wi th HIV who were unable to afford the cost of 2008 Pride who did not attend.
Two years in BPNW members have expressed concern at the lack of transparency about the decision making processes informing Pride. BPNW’s involvement in Pride has been minimal, amounting to little more than fee paying to participate in both the Parade and the expo area which we are sad about.
Two years ago BPNW offered volunteers to help with the vigil. That offer was declined. In 2006 BPNW’s collector’s license was revoked on the Friday evening, meaning our plans for street collections had to be shelved. Unfortunately, this year the only unity at the vigil was a banner on the stage.
BPNW is indebted to the VBA for its support over the years; particularly during a difficult 2002/3 when they were a lifeline to us. Following the collapse of Operation fundraiser BPNW welcomed the advent of Manchester Pride in the hope that a new era of greater partnership, transparency, greater involvement of the full range of local agencies representing people living with HIV. Plus we looked forward to a more equitable distribution of charitable funds raised through the event which we hope might now be the order of the day.
To exclude people from the vigil because they have not paid for a wristband should not be acceptable to anyone and, whether deliberate or not, there is an assumption by many people that they are excluded from their vigil, their opportunity to remember and celebrate the lives of their friends, lovers, family members, and others in the community. HIV is not owned by any one individual or organisation. Why is the HIV vigil no longer the HIV vigil? Its appropriation by George House Trust at the exclusion of other organisations that work day-in day-out with people with HIV in Manchester is shameful.
We, as does the VBA, appreciate that the organisation of the Pride weekend is an onerous and unenviable task; however the sprit of the LGBT community is the key for the weekend. What is the ethos of Pride? Is it a marketing exercise or a community event? If it is a community event, perhaps it would be helpful if BPNW were to remind the organisers that its cost is now prohibitive for the majority of people living with HIV existing on state benefits.
Thank you very much for tackling and airing an extremely difficult topic and hopefully we can support a constructive debate with productive outcomes to enhance 2009’s Pride.