We interview the LGBTQ+ advisor and ex-Lord Mayor of Manchester about Pride

We've always covered Pride with a lot of love here at Manchester Confidential (see our yearly bonanza of Pride photos). The inclusivity of our city is a source of great - well there's no better word for it - pride to Mancunians. But when people aren't happy we need to report that too. In recent weeks there have been a lot of rumours swirling about Pride, and a lot of anger directed at the organisation behind the huge event.

It's about the community, it's about the families, it's about people having that visibility

We talked with Carl Austin-Behan to try and understand a bit more of the complexity of the feelings surrounding Manchester Pride. Carl is a bit of a Manchester legend but for anyone who doesn’t know about our first openly gay Lord Mayor, we can give you a little lowdown. 

Carl served in the RAF, but was forced to leave due to his sexuality. He then served with Manchester’s Fire and Rescue Service before going on to set up his own business, all the while raising funds and awareness for many different charities. In December 2019 he was appointed to be a Deputy Lieutenant of The County of Greater Manchester. Last year he was awarded an OBE for services to Charity, LGBTQ+ Equality and to the Community across Greater Manchester. 

Carl has also served as Chair of Manchester’s Gay Village Business Association and advised the GMP on LGBTQ+ issues. Now he is advising Andy Burnham on LGBTQ+ issues across Greater Manchester. He has been associated with the LGBT Foundation and George House Trust for many years as well as being an ambassador for Manchester Pride. His involvement with so many facets of the community makes him well-placed to talk us through the feelings of some in the community, though he was at pains to let us know that his comments are in a purely personal capacity. 

Manchester Pride Vigil
The Candlelit Vigil at Manchester Pride

I wanted to talk to you about Pride. Maybe we could start with a bit of history?

Carl Austin-Behan: "Originally, when Manchester Pride was set up it was known as the Village Charity. It was a bring-and-buy to raise money for Monsall Hospital for people living with HIV and AIDS. In the early 90s, 50% of the money raised would go to HIV charities such as George House Trust and 50% would go to LGBT charities such as LGBT Foundation.

"Manchester City Council then got involved. It started out as Mardi Gras, then it became Gay Fest  and then working with Operation Fundraiser, then it became Pride. In the original constitution, it was stated where the money went and everyone knew exactly where they stood, and then a few years ago there were conversations about the distribution of the money. But there was nothing in the public domain about that. 

"In 2019 I started asking questions to Manchester Pride about when the George House Trust and the LGBT Foundation were going to get their money. That raised the alarm bells for me and I constantly kept asking them. In 2019 both LGBT Foundation and George House Trust received £41,250 from Pride 2018. Then in 2020 LGBT Foundation received £28,500 from Pride 2019 and George House Trust received nothing from Pride 2019.

"We've always assumed, based on that history, that when we buy a ticket to Manchester Pride, 50% of the ticket price is split to go to charities – of course we understand that the money coming in depends how much money they make etc. Then it actually came out that the board of trustees and Mark Fletcher had decided that they were going to change that the direction of where the money should be given without any consultation, without speaking to the community - without speaking to anybody. 

"The reason they gave for not giving to the George House Trust is Manchester Pride is an LGBTQ+ charity, raising money for LGBTQ+ people. However, people living with HIV could be from any background. So they are saying that they wouldn't support people living with HIV, just because they might not be LGBTQ+, which is absolutely ludicrous. At the end of the day, you're giving to a charity. I really don't care whether someone's LGBTQ+, straight or whatever when it comes to giving them support and funding. I think that's one of the things that has riled people up."

2019 08 24 Manchester Pride 68

And what about the withdrawal of the condom and lube scheme?

CAB: "There was a meeting between Village businesses, Manchester Pride, George House Trust and the LGBT Foundation. Pride said that they had funded George House Trust and the LGBT Foundation this year. But what they actually did was give them both £10,000 pounds as a one-off grant. That's annoyed me because a grant is not the same thing as fully funding something. 

"The idea of the scheme was to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS, as well as STIs and pregnancy. So people are up in arms that this has been stopped and Manchester Pride have turned around and said, ‘Well, we give them some money’. But that's not what you're supposed to be doing. Unless you tell us what you're going to spend the money on, we're not going to give it. "

Ariana Grande At Pride 2019 Credit Getty Images For Ag
Ariana Grande at Pride 2019 Getty images

Do you think Pride has become too expensive?

CAB: "Far too expensive. The Pride event should take place in the village. People didn't want it to move out. If you want to put on a music festival, then you could do a one-day event somewhere. But you still have Manchester Pride itself as all about the village, with the parade there. There's no reason why they couldn't do a big event but that should be a separate entity completely. 

"The ticket prices that you are paying go in the village now are actually paying for the infrastructure for First Street [where MCR Pride Live will take place]. So people are paying to have all the security, the staging, and everything. If you're just going to village the money is going to the infrastructure of a site that isn't bringing money to the village. 

"Back in 2018, income was £2.3 million and in 2019 it was £4 million, a difference of £1 million. Artists’ fees were £232,000 in 2018 and £560,000 in 2019, an increase of £350,000. Even the event production went from half a million to one and a half million pounds. In 2018, for the money that was raised, they gave 6% but in 2019 they only gave out 3%. 

"We don't need a group of people to work on a music festival, or to pay extortionate wages to support a music festival, I'd rather go back to listening to people who have supported  the LGBTQ+ community for years - the likes of Angie Brown, Hazel Dean, drag queens from the village, that actually you have a bit of fun with, and you can relate to the village."

Manchester Pride Expenditure Chart 2018
A pie chart showing Manchester Pride's expenditure from the 2018 review Manchester Pride

What's your advice to Manchester Pride?

CAB: "It needs, not just a transparent review, but a radical overhaul, completely. It needs full representation, not just a board of trustees and staff who have no connection to the Village. Manchester City Council and local councillors as well as Friends of Manchester's Gay Village all round the table. Someone to represent the village businesses, to represent the community, people to represent the charities that are involved in getting that support and get that funding, because that's where the money should be going. 

"There's no one from the charities that are involved in Manchester Pride, no-one from Village Business Association involved, because it pushed so many people away. I stood down as an ambassador. I didn’t want my name is associated with that, but also the fact that the community should have that respect and they're not getting it. 

"I think that they have got to listen, it got to sit up and actually go, ‘You know what, yeah we have lost our way, we need to resolve this’. Maybe it's time to just draw a line and start again. 

"Spending a difference of a million pounds on production isn't practical. I don’t think they are achieving their aims. It's become a music festival event, rather than a Pride raising money for charity. The only way it's going to get back on track is to go back to its roots, and to actually listen to what the community wants. The Village Business Association set up a GoFundMe page. In a week it raised £40,000 for charity. Now that's amazing isn't it? All the village venues have put money into that but all of those venues also put money into Manchester Pride."

Pride Income Graph
A graph showing Pride's recent increase in income up to 2019 Charities Commission

People are angry with Mark Fletcher

CAB: " It's not just Mark Fletcher's fault it’s the whole board, because they've allowed this to happen. Remember what it should be about. Remember what it was for - not for people's egos and people's own self gratification." 

Obviously, there is pressure from social media, but do you think someone like the Council or the Mayor has to step in?

CAB: "If people aren’t happy with the way a charity is being run they can contact the Charity Commission, so maybe they need to get involved. Manchester City Council managed to bring a meeting together but because there's a board of trustees, because there's a CEO, because Manchester Pride is a charity, it's going to be very difficult unless they open up their eyes and see what's going on themselves. All the petitions and all the comments that coming out - it's only natural that people are angry. People are sad, people are devastated. People are fuming. 

"We know that these things don't just happen. Yes, you do have to pay a decent wage to get the right staff to do it but at the same time it raised more money - proportionally speaking - back in the day when you had one event with an event manager and an assistant, with volunteers."

10K Andy Carl Austin Behan
Carl Austin-Behan with Andy Burnham

What do you think about cancelling the parade? There is obviously the COVID factor but you’ve got people saying if COVID is such a worry why don’t they cancel the paid-for events?

CAB: "The council didn't say 'we've got to cancel it.' We've just seen a large amount of activities taking place across the whole city centre two weeks before the Pride Parade would have [The Thank You event among others]. It's just another embarrassment, cancelling it when they could have gone ahead. For a lot of people the Pride parade is more important than anything else, as well as the vigil. The vigil is to remember people with HIV and AIDS and it was for the George House Trust. This is another thing that people are really angry about." 

Pride Man Con Pic 48

Can you talk a bit about what’s coming up later this month and in September?

CAB: "Part of my commitment to Greater Manchester is to make sure that we have a local Pride event in all ten boroughs. Now obviously these last 14 months it's been a bit of a nightmare, but they started to come back again. We've managed to have Salford Pride, Wigan Pride, Levenshulme Pride, we've got Didsbury pride and Bolton Pride coming up. These local pride events are so important because it brings the community together. And it's about the community, it's about the families, it's about people having that visibility and seeing LGBTQ+ people, their families, their friends and allies, celebrated, and most of them are free. 

"I'm also organising GM Digital Pride which will be going out on StreamGM. It’s a collaboration of all the ten boroughs coming together to show unity across Greater Manchester because we know some places haven't been able to do a digital event, or been able to put on a Pride event. It's a way of making sure that everyone feels included, and we will be raising money at that event for the condoms and lube scheme - and for the George House Trust."

Some more information about Manchester Pride

Manchester Pride is technically two separate entities. Manchester Pride itself is a charity, and Manchester Pride Events is a business that puts on the Manchester Pride event. Manchester Pride the charity has a number of income streams including legacies, donations, government grants and the money given to it by Manchester Pride Events.

A statement on the Manchester Pride website reads:

"Since 2018, the Portland Street Strategic Regeneration Framework meant that it was no longer viable to deliver the Manchester Pride Festival in the Gay Village alone. It is now a city-wide celebration of LGBTQ+ life.

"Our Festival attendees come to the event for many different reasons and they have a choice about how they attend the Festival and what they pay for. They can choose to attend MCR Pride Live allowing those in our community who particularly value a shared live event experience to do so. They can choose to attend the Gay Village Party only or they can choose to attend the many free events over the weekend including the Candlelit Vigil, Superbia Weekend, Youth Pride MCR, Family Pride MCR and (usually) the Manchester Pride Parade. This year, due to the continuing pandemic, we are delivering five smaller protest marches instead.

"By attracting larger named artists to our event stage, something our attendees tell us consistently they want, MCR Pride Live significantly subsidises the cost of delivering the Gay Village Party and pays for the many free to attend events including Youth Pride MCR, the Candlelit Vigil, Family Pride MCR, the Superbia Weekend and usually the Manchester Pride Parade."

The statement continues: "The Manchester Pride Parade has become one of Manchester City Centre's biggest events, attracting over a quarter of a million spectators to the streets to cheer on the organisations marching for equality. Not only are the crowds vast, over 200 organisations and 14,000 people proudly displayed their support to LGBTQ+ issues and equality by marching through the streets of Manchester City Centre.

"However, like all other large scale pride events and the Notting Hill Carnival, because we are in the midst of a pandemic it would be socially irresponsible and a risk to public health to deliver a large scale event that does not allow us to check the COVID status of the attendees. We have a responsibility to deliver the safest event possible during the pandemic.

"We believe that protest is a vital part of all pride gatherings so including the opportunity to protest in the 2021 Manchester Pride Festival remains a priority. Therefore, we are delivering six Equality Marches over the weekend. We’re inviting LGBTQ+ organisations and members of the community to take part and to protest. This will also allow us to check the COVID status to safeguard all of those participating.

As a ticketed event, the rest of the Manchester Pride Festival allows us to check the COVID status of individuals in attendance as advised by Public Health England. We are encouraging all ticket holders to declare COVID status by presenting an NHS COVID Pass when they exchange their ticket for a pledge band. We will also be providing information and guidance ahead of the Festival about how this will happen in practice."

You can read more about the charity's response on the Pride FAQs page

Read now: Top things to do in Manchester: August 2021

Read again: Manchester Pride 2021 line-up announced

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