Have you ever sat down and thought what Pride events mean to yourself and others? Why do they exist? Where they born out of the want to ‘party’ or the need to live, rather than exist.
Most of us will go to Gay Pride events this summer. If you do, take a look around and see the expressions on everyone’s faces, the carnival atmosphere, the joy and laughter. Even the police on duty are often enjoying the day.
Fifty years ago in the UK Gay Pride events would have seemed alien. Back then homosexuality was illegal, and ninety-three percent of the country believed it was a mental illness. Gay and bisexual men were considered criminals, if not prosecuted in court, many were blackmailed.
In 1967 homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales, but far from on equal terms. By 1969 The Stonewall Riots in New York changed the attitudes in the ‘gay community’ of the day into doing something about the fight for equality in both America and Britain, along with other countries globally.
Above: The light filters at London Pride in 2016
The first significant march here was in London, July 1st 1972, the closest Saturday to the anerversary of The Stonewall Riots. Two thousand people turned up. The police were in heavy numbers, some protesters had Banners that showed the mood of the day within the gay community. ‘The Gays are revolting’, messages in regards to public displays of affection, among others.
Each year the marches increased in size and by the 1980s they became even more focused politically, fighting against Section 28, policies on HIV and AIDS. Even today London Pride, prides itself on sending a political message.
Gay Pride events of today weren’t born, they emerged out of the fight for equality and freedoms we now take for granted. To kiss in the streets or sleep with another man in a hotel room was technically illegal until the early part of the twenty-first century, without the marches we may not have had such progression. Without the marches we wouldn’t have been so visible. In America many groups began through rendezvous at early marches.
I feel an overwhelming sense of emotion when marching next to someone, feeling like you are a part of something making a difference in a very small way, to be counted and visible in making the difference gives me great joy. For me it’s not about dressing up in high heels and a dress, and expressing myself in this regard, although I don’t condemn anyone who wishes to do so (it adds to the diversity and colour). It is about making change and standing with those equal to you, and changing the world one step at a time, freeing your gender and sexuality from the restraints of society. Being noticed, not as an individual but a collective.
In the late 1980s I saw the Gay Pride march in London on a news program. As a questioning teen it made me feel less isolated. People like me existed. Imagine the impact these events have on the questioning teens of today. The sense of belonging, even for the ones among us who aren’t ready to venture to such events.
Over the years the community has welcomed other sexualities and genders to join them, making them stronger, not only for Pride but for the fight for better understanding.
Last year America raised a rainbow coloured flag on equal marriage at the start of Pride weekend in many cities around the world, including London. Sending that message of unity to the lgbt family around the world, shouting loudly to the homophobes that we are fighting for equality and helping the homo-unaware to be more aware. Changing attitudes and accepting more diverse views too.
At one point in America, in the seventies some marches were called freedom parades. Personally that title is still relevant.
Take a look around and see the freedom, acceptance, and the achievement of our rainbow family, and ask yourself what Pride means to you. Be proud of whatever the next political campaign is, and be proud we all can be a part of that. Note the diversity around us; lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, pansexuals and the transgender community (both male and female). Be aware of everyone, including the intersex and asexual part of the family, as well as the sub-groups too; twinks, bears, muscle Marys, all of them. If you look around, even closer you will noticed the allies and the families too. Accept them for who they are, like those LGBT pioneers that marched for equality and acceptance. We can all continue the fight too as that is exactly what Gay Pride means above all for me….
First published in prowler magazine 2016