The former chair of Brighton Pride has said that the festival needs a “radical” overhaul.

David Harvey, who ran the event between 2003 and 2006, said Brighton Pride was too straight, that LGBT people did not feel safe there and and that trustees could be breaching Charity Commission rules by “running a party disguised as a charity”.

Mr Harvey managed to attain charitable status for the festival in 2004 but says that the current management of the event means it is failing.

In an open letter and speaking to PinkNews.co.uk, he claimed that Pride should be commercialised to allow it to start supporting community activities again and said he and Brighton Liberal Democrat leader Paul Elgood would be writing to the Charity Commission to raise concerns.

In October 2009, the struggling festival announced it would no longer give out grants to local groups.

Mr Harvey said: “As a charitable trust this is its primary function and it isn’t doing this anymore.”

In 2009, organisers admitted the festival was not paying for itself and cancelled the winter event. A £50,000 budget deficit was announced and the 2009 festival was described by organisers as “a bad year” in financial terms.

Mr Harvey, who now lives in Spain, told PinkNews.co.uk that the festival could be rescued by commercialising it, erecting gates around Preston Park and charging for entry.

“It needs a radical change. It needs something to ensure it becomes solvent.” he said.

He claimed that a takeover bid by production company Wilde Ones and club brand Wild Fruit contains a promise to create grants for local groups.

The two companies worked in partnership with Brighton Pride with Mr Harvey while he ran the event. He said he had no current connection to either company.

Mr Harvey also claimed that the fees charged by Brighton council for holding a commercial event in Preston Park could be “ringfenced and distributed to the community groups instead”.

He admitted he did not know how likely this was, but said it was “worth arguing for”.

He added that he had been “urged” by people in Brighton to speak out about the festival.

“They are disenchanted, upset at the way it’s gone and feel its way,” he said. “They have urged me to make a public statement.

“My understanding is that some of the people running it are straight. If you work on a cricket magazine, you have to like cricket.”

He added that the event was losing its gay identity and LGBT people no longer felt safe at a festival which was becoming a “straight jamboree”.

“if you’re going to a gay event, you have to feel safe,” he said. “Pride is for LGBT people and their friends – it is not just for anyone who wants a party.”

Brighton Pride could not be reached for comment. An automated email reply said the festival’s office was closed until Monday January 10th.

Mr Harvey’s letter in full

Where has my Pride gone?

It is with a sad heart that I have read the many news articles on Pride, listened to key people in the community who feel alienated by its organisers, and heard from close friends who say it’s unlikely they will ever go to Pride again.

Something has gone wrong. Pride should be an organisation to unite all people from the LGBT community and beyond. However, in recent times it has bred discontent, caused divisions and hurt some of the people who helped to make it great.

With my fellow trustees, we turned Brighton Pride into a charitable trust in 2004 to run the high profile festival promoting equality whilst giving grants to voluntary groups to participate. It included week-long winter and summer festivals with a focus, not on fundraising, but on community events. Activities were funded by grants, encouraging a wide participation especially from marginalised groups. Businesses did their bit by running fundraising events to boost the grants fund. The Preston Park festival acted as a showcase for all of the charity’s efforts throughout the year. It was funded through sponsorship and bar/food concessions. The activities run by Pride touched all sections of the LGBT community: arts workshops for the parade, an annual dog show, a drug awareness campaign, to name a few. Sadly, in the last few years a lot of these activities have tailed off.

Pride could have expanded its portfolio rather than cutting it back. For example, as a charitable trust it could have acted as a field agent to much larger charitable trusts by administering LGBT grants locally. However, in October 2009 it announced that no more grants would be given out at all. As a charitable trust this is its primary function and it isn’t doing this anymore. As a result I shall be writing to the charities commission to highlight my concerns.

As the community activities have diminished, the effort has been pushed into raising money to pay for an event that has grown year on year whilst slowly losing its gay identity. The last Brighton Pride I went to was in 2009– the crowd has become so mixed that it didn’t feel like a gay Pride event anymore. I now live overseas and would have made the journey back to Brighton for my beloved Brighton Pride this year but it didn’t feel right. My friends who went stayed for less than an hour declaring it had lost its LGBT identity and vowed they won’t be going next year unless something changes radically.

It has become a free party for anyone. This is not what we set the charity up to do. Ethically the charity should stop. Running a party disguised as a charity is morally wrong and an affront to the tens of thousands of charitable efforts across the land.

The Pride trustees should wind up the charity and allow a commercial operation with gay standing to take over the pitch. Charging for the event will end the “free for all” and help return the festival’s gay mix. There is a business bid on the table backed by two key LGBT community groups with a promise to create grants for local groups. However, as this is a commercial operation, the council will wish to charge for the use of Preston Park. It could easily insist that this fee is ring-fenced and distributed to the community groups instead. It would make no financial difference to the Council yet it would provide a massive boost to our voluntary sector.

This bid comes from the production company Wilde Ones and club brand Wild Fruit – they the very people who, in 2003-6, helped me, my fellow trustees and workers, make Brighton Pride the best gay event in the country. Perhaps they can return the that jewel to the gay community’s crown?

David Harvey

Disclosure: David Harvey is the former owner of 3Sixty Magazine. Five years ago, PinkNews.co.uk and 3Sixty jointly published a pilot Pink News magazine.