THE BLOG

Whether LGBT+ Or Straight, You Have A Duty To Come To Pride In 2017

08/01/2017 21:29 GMT | Updated 08/01/2017 21:29 GMT

As the LGBT+ community prepares to spend the summer celebrating and commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, I can hear our detractors already: isn't it time 'they' stopped going on about it? Why do they have to ram it down our throats? Why isn't there a straight pride?

After all, 'we' can adopt children, get married, have sex at 16 the same as heterosexuals, and join the armed forces. We can't be fired for our sexuality. Many of our children's schools have moved so far from Section 28 - a Thatcherite relic that prevented the 'promotion' of homosexuality to schoolchildren - that they now have LGBT+ groups. Hell, television adverts for high street banks now include same sex couples. So, job done. Let's put the sequins away, stop ramming things down people's throats, and get on with life. Yes?

No. Because anti-LGBT+ hate crime is on the increase in the UK, including in supposedly accepting major cities. Trans people are still subject to the spousal veto. If you're bisexual, you'll face daily derision and abuse for being 'greedy' or 'confused'. Same-sex marriage is illegal in Northern Ireland. Various surveys report a huge majority of LGBT+ young people experiencing bullying at school. LGBT+ people are far more likely to have mental health conditions. Two-thirds of LGBT+ people say there's a problem with homophobia in sport.

Things are no better internationally. Almost half of the world's population - 45%, or 3.7 billion people - live in the 76 countries where homosexual acts are illegal. That's more than four times the population of Europe. And 649 million people live in countries where homosexual acts can and do lead to the death penalty.

That ten times the population of the UK live in countries where being LGBT+ can attract the death penalty and more than five times that number live in countries where it's illegal is the reason why Pride still exists. Many of the ninety Prides in the UK will be celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of decriminalisation, but all will take place in a show of solidarity for the billions of people who cannot live their lives freely, sticking two fingers up to the 70-odd countries who oppress them.

Today the UK Pride Organisers Network, which represents Pride organisations across the UK, launches a new film to promote Pride events the length and breadth of the country. Eighty-two Prides are included in the film, including Prides taking place for the first time in Bury, Harrogate, Kirkcaldy, Mold, the Isle of Wight, Eastbourne, Hereford, Worcester and Bridgwater.

And it's broader than just the UK: as many as three million people are expected to descend on Madrid in June for World Pride, only the third time this major international event has taken place in Europe. Worldwide, according to Pride Radar, there are more than 950 Pride events, with many more being added each year. Of course, most of these are in countries where LGBT+ equality is much advanced, but that doesn't stop activists in cities like Kampala, Uganda, from courageously pressing ahead with Pride events.

For me, that's what Pride's about. In 2015, I attended Pride in Riga, Latvia, where the streets were lined with homophobes but their numbers were exceeded by deeply threatening and unwelcoming riot police. Last year, at Pride in Vilnius, Lithuania, my photograph was taken by a well known homophobic activist who was going to add me to his online database of 'sexual predators'. Later this month, with my colleagues from the board of the European Pride Organisers Association, we'll meet LGBT+ activists in the Balkans to discuss how we can support their Pride events.

For many people, Pride is an excuse for a massive party. And there's nothing wrong with that; Pride doesn't belong to any one of us and we can all make it what we want it to be. But as the ascendant far right makes the world a less accepting and tolerant place, the importance of Pride can't be understated. To people in Uganda, nervously reading LGBT+ news online, the significance of seeing 30,000 people march past the Ugandan embassy in Trafalgar Square cannot be understated. And that's the same as for a teenager in their bedroom somewhere in the UK, reading about Pride on their smartphone and finding it gives them the confidence, the sense of freedom and liberty, to be able to tell their friends that they're L, G, B, T or something else.

So whether you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or one of the many sexualities and gender identities unhelpfully lumped under the '+' symbol, you should come to Pride in 2017. Come to celebrate, and to party. Come to show support for the millions of young people unsure of their sexuality. Come to support the hundreds of campaigning organisations and charities in the parades and running stalls. Come to show solidarity with the billions of people worldwide who don't enjoy the freedoms you do.

And if you're straight, you should come too. Come to support your colleagues, friends, your children and wider family. Come to show you're not homophobic; in today's society that's once again something to celebrate, after all. But above all, come because you can. Come to show that there's no need for straight pride because Pride is your Pride.

All should come to say that, 50 years on, we recognise there has been huge progress but we can't exist in isolation and we all have a responsibility to everyone, everywhere.

In fact, you know what? You don't have a choice to come to Pride this year. You have a duty.