“Just holding hands on the street or being visibly lesbian on a bus home can still be risky – but for one day we take over.”
Saturday’s London Pride, which organisers say will be the “biggest ever”, is expected to attract more than a million people to the centre of the capital.
LGBTQ people will take to the streets to celebrate their identity, but also to shout about the progress that still needs to be made.
Today’s protest is a special one. Last weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in New York, when a police raid on a gay bar in Manhattan led to a riot and days of demonstrations that morphed into a sustained LGBTQ liberation movement.
Three years later – on July 1, 1972 – 2,000 people took part in London’s first Pride march.
Activist Andrew Lumsden was one of them. In a recent blog for HuffPost UK he described the atmosphere as being “electric” – a mixture of nervous anticipation but also joyous camaraderie”.
“Very few people were ‘out’ back in those days - homosexuality was still very much frowned upon, even after being partially decriminalised in 1967,” he wrote. “But we were determined to make ourselves visible and demand LGBT+ liberation, no matter if that meant putting ourselves at risk.”
Gill Hay, a lesbian woman who currently lives in south west Scotland but who lived in London for 40 years, first attended Pride on her own in 1985.
She says she was one of the few women marching that year and not everyone was supportive.
“I remember at one point I had a police woman walking next to me who hated me trying to chat to her ... I’ve since attended quite a few Lesbian Strength and Pride marches and events in London with partners, friends, family or on my own.
“I’ve trudged along empty side streets, met up with old friends in the crush of Park Lane (or not); I’ve watched from the side, I’ve been at the front and the back. I’ve watched Martina Navratalova play a Wimbledon final surrounded by a tent full of women. They’ve all been gloriously different.”
But why is Pride still so important?
This year also marks the 30th birthday of the UK-based Stonewall charity. Laura Russell, its director of campaigns, policy and research, says today was an “historic occasion is an opportunity to reflect on the enormous progress we’ve made towards equality and look ahead to the future”.
She adds: “It’s important to acknowledge that many of the people who led that uprising were part of groups who continue to exist at the margins of our community and in society, and for whom Pride isn’t yet a celebration but an act of defiance.”
Russell warned that while there is a lot to be proud of the fight for equality is far from over and there is no place for complacency.
“Already this month we’ve seen a UK politician suggest that science should find an ‘answer’ to LGBT identities, as well as a horrific homophobic, misogynist attack on a lesbian couple in London,” she says.
“Now more than ever, we need everyone who cares about equality to show their support and work together to build a world where all LGBT people are accepted without exception.”
Rise in hate crime
Antonia Bance, a lesbian woman from London, says fears over a rise in homophobia make Pride so important.
“Just holding hands on the street or being visibly lesbian on a bus home can still be risky - but for one day we take over central London with our friends and allies and say loudly and proudly that we exist, and we are entitled to respect, dignity and equal rights.
“For lesbians, homophobia and misogyny combine – so Pride for me is also about fighting sexism and demanding space and recognition for lesbian women.”
This year will be extra special for Bance as she and her partner are taking their five month old daughter to her first Pride.
“When I came out, 20 years ago, the idea that two women could be named as co-parents of a little girl on her birth certificate seemed fantastical,” she says.
For trans people, this year’s events are particularly moving. Last month the latest figures revealed that transgender hate crimes recorded by police forces in England, Scotland and Wales have risen by 81% in the last three years.
There were 1,944 crimes across 36 forces in the last financial year compared with 1,073 in 2016-17, according to data obtained by the BBC by freedom of information requests.
Keb Frith, a gay transgender man from Stevenage, says he hasn’t experienced hate crime personally but has been shocked to see the rise of abuse directed towards trans people in particular.
“Even national newspapers seem willing to publish false stories or ‘reasonable concerns’, so long as it paints us in a bad light. Friends have been targeted by ‘TERFs’ (Trans exclusionary radical feminists) – and they get called misogynists or accused of using slurs for even trying to discuss it.
“It’s incredibly harmful, and it’s heartbreaking to see such bigotry still exists in the world.”
Pride is still important because “there are still those that would rather see us back in the closet – or dead,” he says.
He didn’t go to his first Pride event until 2017 as he had previously been put off from going because he felt it was “intimidating”.
“I was invited by a company I was working with, and for the first time saw the friendly, welcoming, and open event it is. I ended up spending a lot of time with a transgender group, and that really helped me work through some internal issues I was having with my own identity.”
Frith says it’s the community aspect of Pride that keeps him coming back. “Sadly, so many of us experience rejection from our families, our former friendship groups, or even just society generally when we come out.
“Pride is our chance to say, ‘You do have a family. You do belong. You are wanted and cared for, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. We’ll love you and fight for you’.”
Natalie Washington, a trans woman from Hampshire, also says her first Pride event, which was Trans Pride Brighton in 2013 was special.
“I hadn’t been to one before as I wasn’t really sure it was for me - I was still very much questioning and although I was pretty certain I was trans earlier than that, trans people didn’t seem particularly represented at Prides and so I didn’t go.”
The experience, however, was “amazing,” she says.
“It was the first time I’d seen more than about three trans people at once, and being part of this mass of humanity who all knew what it meant was an incredibly powerful and emotional experience.”
Is the Pride movement inclusive enough?
Washington believes the mainstream Pride movement hasn’t always been welcoming for trans people but that things are starting to get better.
“There are growing numbers of Trans specific Prides which reflects the fact that it hasn’t always been [good] in the past, and still isn’t in many places.
“A lot of trans people have had bad experiences at Pride (misgendering & very personal questions are common) and Prides can do more to work with trans people to improve this. I’m seeing more trans people on organising committees which is great, and this needs to continue. As the wider community understands us more I think things will improve.”
She says she has noticed a rise in negative attention lately in every day life.
“Online, it’s never been good, but it’s particularly bad lately. Offline, I’ve noticed a little more negativity but what’s particularly scary is reading about the really noticeable increase in violence towards LGBTQI+ people.
“It’s enough to make you really think hard about where you go and when, and I’ve certainly modified my behaviour recently to feel safer.”
That’s why Pride is still important, she says. It’s a way for LGBTQ people to “take up space” and be “visible”.
Bisexual people have also sometimes struggled to find a place at Pride events. Finn Oldfield, who is bisexual from Liverpool, says.
“Even though bi people make up the majority of the LGBT community, I feel there is a lot of bi erasure, recently seen with Lady Gaga and the erasure her sexuality faces, Pride should be more inclusive of the erasure bi people face.
“Often I and other bi friends I have are made to feel like outsiders in the LGBT community, or feel like we don’t really belong, some choosing to call themselves allies because they don’t fit ’stereotypes.
“As Pride is a protest, we should be adamant in fighting for awareness of the stigma bi people face,” he adds.
This year organisers of London’s pride celebration have strived to be as inclusive as possible after previously facing criticism.
For the first time, LGBTQ disability organisation ParaPride will be joining London’s Pride parade, a move that it says is “iconic” for disabled people.
The group, which formed in April 2018 and officially launched in May this year, was invited to appear in the annual parade by charity Stonewall, alongside Black Pride, transgender charity Mermaids and LGBTQ+ Muslim charity Imaan.
However not everyone feels the organisers of Pride are doing enough to include everyone.
Josh Rivers of Black Pride UK says Pride month can be an “incredibly frustrating time” for LGBTQ people of colour.
“We have made (and continue to make) such tremendous contributions to the modern LGBTQ liberation movement and Pride month can often feel like a more pronounced erasure of our experiences and our role in the movement.”
He adds that it is also “a time of discovery and delight” and says they have come across more and more stories about LGBTQ people of colour across history.
“People are foraging for our histories and coming up with some beautiful, prescient and important moments and people who help energise and animate us,” he says.
Black Pride takes place on Sunday in Haggerston Park, and this year promises to be bigger than ever before.
Rivers explains why organisers felt that a separate event was needed. In 2005, Phyll Akua Opoku-Gyimah, known as Lady Phyll, took a busload of queer Black women to Southend-on-Sea for a weekend escape and it was there that UK Black Pride was born.
Afterwards she approached the leaders of the then-dominant pride organisation about setting up a Black Pride but did not get a welcome reception.
“Unfortunately, we’ve not seen many changes since then. We are still fighting to be meaningfully included, not just at mainstream pride organisations, but across society,” Rivers says.
Research by Stonewall in 2018 revealed what LGBTQ people of colour know to be true, River says, when it found that 51% of them have experienced racism from within the LGBTQ community.
“We face very real challenges with discrimination, racism, misogynoir, sexism, you name it, and so it’s as important as it ever was that we have safe spaces where we can connect with people like ourselves, who understand the very unique place we occupy in the world.
“And it’s no bad thing that we celebrate our cultures, lived experiences and contributions. This is not a movement of division, rather of unity. We are here. We deserve a space to call our own.”
Another major story this year has been the row in Birmingham over same-sex education.
The row erupted earlier this year over No Outsiders, an award-winning programme, which teaches children about children about the Equality Act, British values, and diversity using storybooks.
This led to some members of the muslim community to protest outside schools. It’s been particularly harmful to the Asian LGBTQ community in the city, and beyond.
At the Birmingham Pride parade in May, Andrew Moffat, who created the programme hit the headlines when he walked at the front of the procession with Khakan Qureshi, founder of Birmingham South Asians LGBT and Find Our Voice and Saima Razzaq, from Supporting Education of Equality and Diversity in Schools (SEEDS).
Qureshi says the Birmingham protests have been part of a wider trend of pushing back against LGBTQ rights in the UK and across the world.
Leading the march this year was “overwhelming,” he says.
“It was an honour and a privilege. Birmingham Pride has been around for 22 years and I’ve always been in the background but for the last five years I’ve tried to make sure Finding Our Voice, which is a social support group, have been involved.”
“It’s important we do have role models, and they are vocal and visible within the Asian community otherwise we’re all going to be living in shame and denial.
“With the protests, there is a level of erasure in the LGBT community and I still receive a lot of trolling and abuse from people saying ‘you can’t be gay and muslim’ whereas having a group, such as Finding Our Voice, it identifies that we can come from all different walks of life, ethnicities and cultures.”
He says the visibility of South Asian communities is always really low at Pride.
“Allowing me to be at the forefront this year, with other groups, was a good start,” he says. “One of the reasons of making sure the group takes part is about that visibility.”
Is it a party or a protest?
Organisers have faced other criticism in recent years, including from some who say it’s become far too commercialised, and others who say it’s lost its protesting roots and is too focused on attracting popstars to headline.
Rivers points out that Pride events are expensive to put on, especially when it’s so crucial to keep everyone safe.
He says it’s important that corporate organisations who want to get involved in pride celebrations do so understanding that they have a bigger role to play in the liberation of LGBTQ people.
“When we’re working with corporate organisations, we remind them that working with UK Black Pride and putting a rainbow flag on your building is not a substitute for meaningful structural change in their organisations,” he says.
Aaron Eastwood, who is a gay man from Manchester, said there has been a shift from Pride being about protest to it being more about partying. He now believes it’s heading back towards being focused on protest.
At his first Pride, he says “the mixture of party and protest stood out” and now it’s “definitely more of a party”.
He says: “I was at Sitges Pride near Barcelona in June and there wasn’t one protest float, which I found at odds with the realities of many LGBT+ people.
“I’m too young to remember Pride when it was more of a protest. Though, I think this current generation needs to have that protest front of mind considering what’s going on.”
The blend of both is important, he says.
At this year’s Manchester Pride, which begins on August 23, he will be cheering on the protest floats as well as having a great time dancing to Ariana Grande.