Hundreds of events have been taking place throughout the UK in celebration of Pride Month this June. London’s Pride Parade is the biggest and most widely attended event during UK Pride and is set to happen this weekend (6th of July). The theme this year is ‘Jubilee’, as 2019 marks 50 years since the Stonewall Riots, which were the catalyst for the first official Pride Parade in New York. London's Pride Parade is a huge celebration of the LGBTQ+ community and last year over a million people were estimated to have attended the event, with even more expected this year. But has it always been this way? And how did it start? This week at WERKIN we’re looking at the evolution of London Pride and how it has transformed into the event it is today.
THE HISTORY OF LONDON PRIDE
The Stonewall Riots were a series of demonstrations led by LGBTQ+ people of colour at the Stonewall Inn in New York in June 1969. They are seen as a major catalyst for the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement and inspired the first Pride Parade the following year in New York. On the 1st July, 1972, the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) held the UK’s first ‘Gay Pride’ march. 700 people attended the event, but many chose not to as they feared they might lose their jobs, be evicted from their flats or be arrested if they attended the event. Attendees were ‘swamped’ by a ‘heavy and aggressive police presence’ and received abuse by members of the public. Peter Tatchell, veteran LGBTQ+ activist and one of the attendees at the first march, remembers ‘they treated us like criminals. It was a bit scary’. The first march was extremely political, taking place at a time when homosexuality was considered an illness and kissing in public could get you arrested. The march had no commercial sponsorship, as no businesses wanted to be associated with the LGBTQ+ community. Furthermore, London’s council’s and MPs refused to be involved and the media either ignored or criticised the event.
In the decades of LGBTQ+ activism that have followed the first London Pride, significant rights have been won, such as the equalisation of the age of consent, the repeal of Section 28, marriage equality and The Gender Recognition Act. Homophobia and transphobia, though still very much a part of UK society, are not at the same level as in 1972. London’s Pride Parade is now an annual and much anticipated event, with numerous performances and hundreds of thousands of people attending each year. Major companies such as Tesco, Amazon, Barclays, PwC and Budweiser are among the many corporate sponsors of this years event. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London will be attending, as well as many other politicians and public figures.
But the fight for LGBTQ+ equality is far from over. Recent years have seen a surge in homophobic and transphobic hate crime in the UK. A report by Stonewall, the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ equality charity, found that 35% of LGBTQ staff in the UK hide their identities due to fear of discrimination. 18% of LGBTQ staff have been the target of negative comments or conduct in the past year and 10% of BAME LGBTQ employees have been physically attacked, either by colleagues or customers at work. According to a report published by the UK's Government Equalities Office found that LGBTQ+ people have lower levels of life satisfaction, are less likely to feel properly provided for by health services and are at greater risk of being victims of crime. The persistent discrimination and inequality facing LGBTQ people in the UK has has led prominent figures such as journalist Owen Jones to suggest that Pride needs to remember its political roots and bring the spirit of protest back to Pride.
Ongoing debates about the commercialisation of Pride and subsequent movements to re-politicise Pride came to a head in New York last weekend, when 45,000 people marched in the alternative, ‘Queer Liberation March’ organised by the Reclaim Pride Coalition, rather than the official New York Pride Parade. 50 years on from Stonewall, this seems to be a critical time for Pride, as it reevaluates what it wants to be and how it wishes to continue. Tom Stevens, Director of Marketing at London Pride recently stated ‘the Pride Jubilee honours 50 years of queer revolt and allows us to recognise and celebrate the moments in our shared history that have made the Pride movement what it is today. The #PrideJubilee is about recognising that we have much to learn from the queer pioneers who came before us and that we must take collective responsibility to understand our history’. Perhaps Pride Jubilee offers us the chance to look back, at what has been achieved, but to also look forward, at what still needs to be done.
You can find out more about London Pride and see the full list of events here: https://prideinlondon.org/