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Pride 2023: Scotland, Rainbow Washing, History and Visibility

Have you noticed an influx of branded rainbow paraphernalia on your high street? Is your Spotify inundated with bold colours, playlists with motivational titles like ‘UnIqUeLy U’, and Robin S. songs? That can only mean that Pride season is upon us: a time when drag queens are sentenced to three summer months of natural sunlight, and corporations remember they have a diversity quota and rainbow-adorned marketing plan that needs pushing. Cast your mind back to Marks and Spencer’s woeful ‘LGBT’ (lettuce, guacamole, bacon, and tomato) sandwich. Equality has never tasted so good.

Okay, perhaps I’m being too cynical: after all, it is easy to become jaded when faced with companies exploiting the ‘pink pound’ and currying favour by promoting diversity for a month, then becoming business-as-usual the next day.

The discourse around Pride’s capitalist evolution and the ever-expanding gulf between its original premise and the machine it has become remains a pertinent issue, especially when it feels the progress communities have toiled so hard to achieve hangs in the balance. Despondency is dangerous, and we must challenge ourselves to reflect not only on the true intention of Pride – to protest the glaring inequalities that somehow still exist – but also on how we can remain galvanised against structural discrimination in all its forms (all while listening to Kylie’s new song, ‘Padam Padam’).



Let’s take a trip down memory lane: even though it was still at that time illegal to be gay at all, the first permitted Pride parades (or more accurately, ones not actively prohibited) were held in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in June 1970, commemorating the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Boasting some 50,000 spectators, the marches proved to be a powerful act of solidarity and celebration.

However, Scotland’s history with Pride runs a little differently. While there had been smaller Pride rallies and marches in the 80s and 90s, more than 3,000 people gathered in Edinburgh for the first ever large-scale Pride Scotland march on 17th June 1995. It had been illegal to be gay only fifteen years prior to this event: this was Scotland’s chance to display how far we had come in achieving equality. The fight, of course, was far from over, both here and abroad.

The last year alone has seen the progress achieved in securing LGBTQ+ equality rolled back, most notably in the States. Fifty-three years after the first US Pride parade, more than 500 anti-trans bills have been introduced in states across the country, pantomime villain Governor Ron DeSantis’ legislative initiatives have encouraged the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ doctrine in high schools, and Tennessee became the first state in the country to ban public drag performances.

And the UK isn’t much better: in April, it was reported that the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, a homophobic religious group, has been a direct recipient of UK aid money, while anti-trans rhetoric has become commonplace in political discourse, especially in the context of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.


Pride 2022 – Photo credit: Lara Delmage

I guess it’s the mark of privilege to consider Pride redundant or remain cynical about its progress. Just because certain sections of the LGBTQ+ community can live, work, and love with pride and safety hardly excuses the barriers so many people still experience. Visibility is crucial, and if hosting parades, protests, or educational events reminds the masses of how easily our progress can rewind, that can only be a good thing. If ever there was a period in recent memory to remain vigilant and truly relish Pride, it is now. 

And while it is all too simple to sit on one’s high horse criticising the rainbow washing, it is an oversight to ignore the efforts made by volunteers and activists to preserve the intention of these celebrations. Pride doesn’t magically appear – grassroots and community events are crucial in galvanising neighbourhoods to unite in the name of LGBTQ+ inclusion.

But it’s a delicate balance – we want Pride to be successful, inclusive, and entertaining, and doing so often requires financial support or sponsorship. Perhaps the onus should be choosing said sponsorship more thoughtfully, ensuring the support, both symbolic and monetary, comes from the correct place (read: any UK government or Home Office rainbow flags you see in the next four weeks are a hypocritical slap in the face). 

Pride is a protest, as well as a celebration of diverse unity. However you celebrate, place this principle at the centre.

Dundee Pride takes place on 10th and 11th June, Pride Edinburgh on 24th June, and Glasgow’s Pride on 15th July, though there are several Pride events occurring around Scotland over the next two months.


Dundee Pride logo

Dundee is also hosting the Scottish Trans Conference 2023, taking place at Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre on 17th June. The free, all-day conference will be an opportunity for the trans community and allies to come together to learn, share, and discuss how Scottish Trans (an initiative of Equality Network) can best uplift trans people and their voices.

Throw house parties, barbeques, film screenings…anything to help celebrate our community. If you aren’t celebrating physically, you can still contribute to the continued efforts to secure LGBTQ+ equality: you could help develop LGBTQ+ inclusive resources or practices in your office, email your MSP about inequalities or hate crimes you have witnessed in your community, or set up a monthly donation to a charity like LGBT Youth Scotland or Terrence Higgins Trust. 

Regardless of how you celebrate, it is vital that you play your part. Don’t be fooled by whatever cringeworthy rainbow merchandise you will be subjected to over the next two months: Pride is political, Pride is for everyone, and Pride is powerful. So put on ‘Padam Padam’, read up on what’s going on near you, and celebrate! 

Main photo credit: Lara Delmage

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