Manchester Pride: what’s happening and why are people protesting? Seven key questions answered

The celebration of LGBTQ+ people is a highlight on the city’s calendar - but the build-up to the 2021 edition has been anything but smooth.

The transformation of the centre of Manchester into a rainbow celebration of diversity, tolerance and the LGBTQ+ community for Pride weekend is always one of the most uplifting events in the year.

Manchester’s celebration is one of the biggest Pride festivals in the world.

However, the run-up to this year’s event has proved extremely controversial amid debates about what the purpose of the event should be.

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    Here Manchester World explains what is happening and how the city will continue celebrating LGBTQ+ people this year.

    When is the 2021 Manchester Pride?

    This year’s Manchester Pride takes place over the August Bank Holiday weekend, with events from the evening of Friday 27 August through to Monday 30 August.

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    The party will take place across the city, with the venue for the live music element being the city’s newest outdoor events space at First Street, between Deansgate and Oxford Road railway stations.

    What is happening at this year’s Manchester Pride?

    A host of A-list stars have been announced for MCR Pride Live, the music aspect, which is taking place at the venue originally launched as Homeground this May by HOME.

    There will be two stages at the site, which is located next to the contemporary arts venue, the Main Stage and the the Gaydio Dance Tent.

    Over the two days of the Saturday and Sunday (28 August and 29 August) there will be performances by the likes of Zara Larsson, Sigala, Annie Mac, Gabrielle, Katy B, Shura, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Example.

    Annie Mac. Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

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    The festival will also include events such as the Gay Village Party, equality marches, Superbia, Your Pride MCR, Family Pride and the Human Rights Forum as well as the candlelit vigil.

    There are six main strands to the event: Activism, Equality, Arts and Culture, Youth and Family, Community and Party.

    What do I need to do to attend?

    Covid-19 means that a bit more forward planning than in previous years is required.

    With the exception of the candlelit vigil, all of the events at this year’s Manchester Pride, including the free ones, are ticketed.

    They are also subject to the government’s guidance, meaning that all ticket-holders aged 18 and over will need to demonstrate their Covid-19 status on entering the festival by showing a valid NHS Covid Pass.

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    This is obtained by supplying proof of a negative NHS Lateral Flow Test taken prior to travel on the day of arrival at the festival, proof of full vaccination which both doses received and the second done at least 14 days prior to the festival, or proof of natural immunity based on a positive PCR test within 180 days of the festival, including 10 days of self-isolation following the result.

    More information is available on the Manchester Pride website.

    A limited number of day passes are still available. Rainbow Passes, which allow access to MCR Pride Live Festival and four days at the Gay Village Party, start at £55 for a day. Gay Village Party tickets are £17.50 for one day.

    So what is causing the controversy?

    There are two things which have put the pressure on Manchester Pride’s organisers this year.

    The organisation announced it could no longer fund the LGBT Foundation’s Safer Sex scheme after more than a quarter of century of supporting it.

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    The scheme distributes free condoms and lubricant and is viewed by many as a lifeline.

    It also announced that its agreement with HIV charity George House Trust had finished and there were talks about a new funding offer for it.

    Businesses in the Gay Village rallied around the two causes with a big crowd-funding scheme but discussions were started on the direction of Manchester Pride and whether the festival had lost touch with its roots and history.

    The second issue was the announcement that the massive parade through the city would not be taking place this year.

    Canal Street in Manchester

    Organisers say they had no choice due to Covid-19 regulations governing large-scale public events, but opponents pointed out that this could be interpreted as an enormous free event dedicated to LGBTQ+ visibility having to be scrapped while all the paid-for events were continuing.

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    This, therefore, also ended up being seen in some quarters as evidence that Manchester Pride was losing its way.

    And announcements that people had looked into the festival’s finances and worked out only a small percentage of the multi-million-pound figure generated by the event each year went to charities supporting the LGBTQ+ community did not help.

    What are those who are unhappy doing about it?

    As well as Manchester Pride there are now two other events taking place in the city.

    Firstly, there is a protest event called Reclaim Pride taking place in Sackville Gardens on Saturday 21 August.

    This is designed to reinforce the importance of protest to these events alongside celebration and is expected to get those attending to think about issues such as trans rights, sex education, HIV, conversion therapy and anti-racism.

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    Organisers have told the media that they are not against Manchester Pride but decided to put this event on when it was announced the parade would not go ahead and the row over the charities broke out.

    There will, though, be a chance for people to march through Manchester during the Pride weekend.

    The MCR Pride Protest will take place on Saturday 28 August, beginning from Whitworth Street at about 11.30am and heading into the city.

    This is expected to be an opportunity for those who have been involved in the recent incidents or have a view on it to air their frustrations in public.

    What has Manchester Pride said about the situation?

    Organisers of Manchester Pride said the decision to cancel the parade was an extremely difficult one to make.

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    Mark Fletcher, CEO of Manchester Pride, said: “Not being able to deliver the Manchester Pride Parade this year was heartbreaking but it really would be impossible to check the Covid-19 status of every single person that came to watch it.

    “Hundreds of thousands of people head into the city to watch the procession go by and there would be no way of ensuring that those people were not transmitting this virus which has taken such a horrible toll on our lives over the last 18 months.

    “The government is advising that all live event organisers put these processes in place and we are working together with the relevant safety groups and local authorities to follow this advice. “

    Mr Fletcher encouraged people to come into the city and enjoy the Pride weekend and spoke with enthusiasm about the venue for the live music element and its star-studded line-up.

    He said: “It’s really exciting to be taking MCR Pride Live to First Street this year. The site is perfect for our event and is less than 10 minutes walk from the Gay Village, meaning that ticket holders will be able to move around our different sites in the city really easily and enjoy everything that Manchester Pride Festival has to offer.”

    Manchester Pride has now directed readers to a lengthy FAQs section on its website which has addressed many of the recent issues and questions.

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    Is there any prospect of the disagreements being resolved?

    Manchester City Council last week brought Manchester Pride, the LGBT Foundation and George House Trust together to discuss the situation.

    It was agreed that the three charities each have a vital role to play in serving the LGBT communities of Greater Manchester and the council will convene a meeting between them and the Village Licensed Business Association after the festival to explore how Manchester Pride can continue to support the work of the other two charities.

    The council said it will actively work with LGBT Foundation and Manchester Pride to ensure the continued survival of the safer sex pack scheme and Manchester Pride agreed to conduct a transparent review during autumn, taking views from a wide-reaching range of stakeholders and the community, about the future direction of the festival. 

    The result of this will be published along with an action plan.

    Afterwards the council hailed the meeting as a useful step.

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    Coun Pat Karney, who chaired the meeting, said: “It was a very positive and productive meeting with all parties agreeing to work together on future plans.

    “The City Council is very proud of our LGBT community leaders that contribute massively to the success of Manchester.” P

    Paul Wheeler, chair of trustees of the board for Manchester Pride,said: “We felt it was a positive and constructive meeting. We are keen to find ways to continue supporting the vital work of the LGBT Foundation and George House Trust. We are equally committed to ensuring everyone has a say in shaping Manchester Pride.”

    In a joint statement LGBT Foundation chief executive Paul Martin and George House Trust chief executive Darren Knight said: “LGBT Foundation and George House Trust are pleased that Manchester Pride agreed to meet with us and thank the council for convening this constructive meeting.

    “Although our current funding partnerships are ending, we’re grateful Manchester Pride has pledged to help fund our vital community services in the future.

    “The announcement of a review is welcome, but we believe that Pride must go further. There is a clear message coming from our community that real change is needed so this must be a truly radical review into Manchester Pride’s format and purpose.

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    “Ultimately it is the views of Greater Manchester’s LGBTQ+ community that count, and this is what they are calling for.

    “We also want to say thank you to the Village Licensed Businesses Association and everyone who has donated to their GoFundMe campaign. We are blown away by your support.”