LETTER TO EDITOR: There is no Pride in bullying!

As volunteer chair of the Brighton & Hove LGBT Community Safety Forum (LGBT CSF) I feel it my responsibility to address the severity of the bullying and intimidation currently taking place on social media in relation to Brighton Pride.

Billie Lewis

Billie Lewis

I firstly want to acknowledge the valid reasons that some people have eloquently presented their frustrations about how they feel Pride has changed over the past few years and how they remember it used to be.

We must all listen to and recognise those with valid experiences and honest apprehension for there to be a progressive and inclusive future together.

However, my letter focuses on the severity of the bullying and inaccuracies being presented, without moderation online.

We (The LGBT CSF) speak to many people from within the communities over the phone, by video, in person and online on a daily basis. The message being received is that there is a common concern over the way individuals are being targeted and harassed by a very small group of people using their social media influence or platforms.

When individuals repeatedly take to social media to shame or slur other organisations or folks connected to it the only the only real achievement gained is the loss their own credibility.

However, more disturbing to all of us involved in support groups/organisations is that the online trolling jeopardises the chances of vulnerable people coming forward to access necessary services or support because of the confusion and inaccuracies presented by the instigators of misinformation and lies.

Do people really want Pride and it’s guaranteed funding stream to the Rainbow Fund to collapse so that accountable community organisations are no longer able to assist people who have been raped, affected by domestic abuse, trauma, substance misuse, HIV, transphobia, mental health, isolation, dementia or disability?

If you have never had to access one of these brilliant services on offer in our amazing city then count yourself lucky, but remember this, you never know when you, a friend or loved one may one day need support from our LGBT+/HIV voluntary groups.

I refer to my previous letter to the editor, ‘Thank You Rainbow Fund ‘ sent in October, 2017.

“As our current economy changes and political views shift, more and more people are becoming isolated and vulnerable. Every day people from all over the globe move to the city because of its reputation as an LGBT+ safe space. Unfortunately for some this is not the reality. The cities brilliant services are stretched and money is becoming less available to all. We are acutely aware of this, and too, how much the Rainbow Fund contributes to service support within the City. The stark reality is that without the Rainbow Fund and its direct support to our groups there would be NO funding for many of the projects that operate in Brighton & Hove. We rely on the generosity of donations, Fundraisers and the support of grant givers like the Rainbow Fund to enable us to deliver our work. For this we thank you.”

Since writing that letter nothing has changed. Public funding remains tight, people are still affected by a multitude of different issues, folks still migrate to the city for support and Pride and the Rainbow Fund continue to raise funds and support our local LGBT+ and HIV communities.

We have a fantastic selection of organisations in Brighton and Hove that benefit from Pride and grants from the Rainbow Fund. From choirs to youth projects, Brighton’s support mechanism is amazing! Much of this work is carried out by small unpaid volunteer organisations that would quite simply not be able to deliver their programmes if it were not for access to this local funding. This includes brilliant ‘Grass Roots’ organisations that are based in the community delivering outreach and support every day of the year including Pride weekend.

Criticism has been partly focused on the availability and price of the tickets. It is my understanding that at the time of writing this letter Pride confirmed that they had allocated the same amount of tickets with the same price scales as last year apart from the last two price bands that are released much closer to the event. They just sold far quicker than in previous years.

I acknowledge and appreciate that not everyone can afford a full price ticket to Preston Park or the Pride Village Party, but it is my understanding that people can apply to the Rainbow Fund for support if they cannot volunteer for any reason.

Attending Pride on a complimentary ticket is easy too if you can volunteer just a couple of hours of your time. This can be done long before the big day itself and most voluntary groups have agreements with Pride, so they can create roles and responsibilities suited to their service users’ needs in a comfortable and familiar environment.

The LGBT CSF have a strong workforce of over 50 volunteers providing access alone. From driving buggies for the disabled on the Pride parade to meeting people at the park or assisting in the access tent. Everyone works at their own pace and to their own strengths and abilities.

To my knowledge not one of these volunteers sees it as having to ‘work’ for a ‘free ticket’ but instead sees volunteering as a safe and relaxed way to take part in the event and join in with their friends and communities. Most volunteers contribute to the main day, but others donate their time all week. If you would like to try volunteering with us this year, click here:

Its true, Pride has changed over the past few years but not necessary for the worse.

Pride remains solvent after past organisers, who generated zero funds for our community groups went into liquidation owing other charities in the city £280.000. Pride in 2018 continues to support and raise ring-fenced funds for all our communities and provides customers to local bars, hotels, theatres, shops, cafes and public transport. While contributing a large sum towards the costs of policing the event. It also has to pay for the costs of the enormous security infrastructure and emergency services that keep us safe on the day.

The ticketing system this year has been unfortunate for everyone involved – both for Pride and the Community. Pride have assured the committee of the LGBT CSF that more printed tickets will be made available in town for sale to local BN residents.

The LGBT CSF have recruited extra volunteers to assist those with access requirements or in need of access tickets to ensure needs are met. This includes making sure that standard park tickets purchased in error during the website crash will be reallocated to the Access Gate.

We can also assist in the purchase of paper tickets when they become available to us on February 15, at the box office in the Phil Starr Pavilion during the B Right On Festival.

Sometimes things do go wrong but it does not justify the vilification currently being dished out online. Hiding behind a keyboard or fake profile to intentionally cause harm is not just malicious but gutless.

If your criticism is about an individual, then own that and tell them face to face. Don’t target an entire group of people with passive aggressive posts or conspiracy theories. We are all surely better than that?

Online bullying and trolling is one of the worst and most psychologically damaging forms of bullying there is. Experienced perpetrators understand and exploit this.

We are encouraging anyone affected by this bullying to attend our free training session with the Crown Prosecution Service during the B Right On Festival on Wednesday, February 21 to identify reporting mechanisms and learn how you can take action against those that abuse you.

Pride’s headline act may not be everyone’s cup of tea but the event itself has and will highlight the City and its LGBT+ communities to a global audience. Never forget we live in a unique bubble in Brighton & Hove.

Many people out there do not understand what the letters ‘LGBT’ represent nor why it’s important to respect a person’s sexuality, gender identity or pronoun. People all over the world are talking about LGBT+ issues more than ever before and we should embrace and utilise this opportunity to educate and communicate to a wider audience.

It’s ironic we are free to protest that Pride isn’t ‘Gay’ enough or ‘we can’t have a picnic in the park’ or ‘Pride isn’t ours anymore because its fenced’ when in other parts of the world folks are shunned,  imprisoned, hung or beheaded for their perceived sexuality, gender or HIV status.

The situation we find ourselves in has got out of hand.  It is not the fault of Pride or the Rainbow Fund. It lies with all of us collectively. Those that want to do, those that don’t, those whose passion for engagement is contagious and those who are happy for disengagement to take place. Folks on the front line or those who love to participate from a distance. In the difference of our opinions and the assumption that the echo chambers of social media platforms are an appropriate apparatus to exercise our right to free speech regardless of the fact that what is being said and shared is sometimes not true.

I’m unsure as to what the answer to a positive cohesion or even happy medium is, but I do know that it does not involve intimidation and the slandering of people who do not deserve it.

Let’s at least try to work together to show the world how amazing our city is and how diverse and supportive many of the organisations within it are. Let our determination be one of acceptance and support and be wary of our it becoming one of entitlement and spitefulness.

Let’s keep the LGBT+/HIV communities in Brighton and Hove on the map for being an eclectic mix of intersectionality, resilience and acceptance and resist the wrangling and abuse of each other before we become known as a collective group of numpties!

For information on our free training programmes, click here: 

 

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