Pride as Protest
Some say the first Pride was the Stonewall Riot which began in the early hours of June 28, 1969 when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The raid sparked a riot among bar patrons and neighbourhood residents as police roughly hauled employees and patrons out of the bar, leading to six days of protests and violent clashes with law enforcement outside the bar on Christopher Street, in neighbouring streets and in nearby Christopher Park. The Stonewall Riots served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world. It’s a place of pilgrimage for many (me included).
Judy Garland had died just few days earlier on 22 June 1969. The gay community who closely identified with her, were at the end of their tether. So, when someone asks, ‘are they a friend of Dorothy’? They mean, ‘are they gay?’ (Judy Garland played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz – with many gay people feeling a very long way from home).
The first gay Pride in England took place on 1 July 1972 (the date was the closest Saturday to the anniversary of the Stonewall riots). I attended my first Pride in 1990.
G.A.Y. means Good. As. You.
Pride as an antidote to Shame
Celebrating Gay (LGBT) Pride, for me and many others, has been an antidote to shame. We didn’t march, dress up, sing and dance for the sake of it. We were doing so for our very lives.
My formative years were spent in the era of:
a) AIDS (the gay plague)
b) Thatcher’s section 28
c) Lesbians and Gays were not allowed to serve in the military
d) No Same sex marriage/civil partnership
e) Conversion Therapy
f) No religion welcomed us or worse condemned us
g) No role models on TV
What were the messages I learned? That I wasn’t worthy. That I was something to be ashamed of. That I was just not good enough. Sinful.
The AIDS epidemic (arguably a pandemic) was ignored to the extent that it had a cataclysmic effect on gay men, who died horrible deaths in droves. Just imagine if all your friendship group died, at the same time. It was seen as a moral problem rather than a health problem; the view was that it was gay men’s depraved sexual behaviour that was to blame.
The 1987 AIDs protest slogan ‘Silence = Death’ rang true. The gay community, including lesbians came together to agitate for change and to help their brothers have the most dignified death possible. The gay community only had each other.
Just imagine if COVID had been dealt with in the same way? AIDS and COVID are both viruses.
Section 28 Local Government Act 1988
This prohibited local authorities and schools from ‘promoting’ homosexuality. That we weren’t a real ‘family’. There was a huge spike in homophobic attacks after this became law.
Research at that time showed that LGB young people were more 8 times more likely to kill themselves, because of their shame at being gay. It was difficult for schools to provide appropriate pastoral care.
The Armed Services and other workplaces
Men and women could not be homosexual and serve in the armed services. Of course, there have always been queers in the military, they just had to hide. When found out they were subject to searches and interrogation. If found ‘guilty’ they were dishonourably discharged, having their service medals removed, with their lives and careers ruined. I briefly wondered about a military career…..To be fair they hid well.
In other jobs it was perfectly lawful to pay gays and lesbians less and to sack them without fear of facing any successful challenge. No wonder many of us stayed in the closet.
It was a given that I would never be able to marry a woman. Our relationships were never to be applauded or approved of. Most of us kept our relationships a secret outside of their ‘gay’ circle. Concealing such a big part of ourselves had a high price from all sorts of perspectives.
I attended a Stonewall lecture at The Law Society in 2001 and the speaker, Kees Waaldiijk, talked about ‘The Law of Small Change’. This is because at the time the Lesbian and Gay community had been making piecemeal challenges to the law by bringing cases. These did help to bring about some equality but it was slow work.
We could and did live together. If we split up, we would sort things out amongst ourselves. We did not generally feel we had recourse to the law. Few argued their cases before the courts.
If one of a couple died without a will it was common for the family to take all their belongings, to arrange the funeral and ban the surviving partner from any decisions; including any medical treatment. Partners were routinely turned away from visiting the hospital and could not make life and death decisions.
Lesbians who left their opposite sex marriages had to do so at the risk of losing their children. I have 3 friends who had to leave their children behind. The courts were no help and routinely refused to countenance lesbian relationships. The only lesbians who got to keep their children were those who were lucky enough to have husbands who were enlightened or just felt the children would be better off with their mums.
As late 2008 I heard a Judge (in Brighton of all places) say that the lesbian family was not a ‘real one’.
‘LGBT+ Conversion therapy refers to any physical, psychological, religious, cultural or counselling practice that aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or suppress a person’s gender identity.’ (The Peter Tatchell Foundation). Essentially, it’s a treatment offered to ‘turn’ gay people straight. Jeanette Winterson famously wrote about her experiences in ‘Oranges are not the only fruit’.
Conversion Therapy has been shown to leave its recipients traumatised. The practice is based on the assumption that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans is a defect or illness that should be ‘cured’”, said Mr Tatchell.
No religion welcomed us or worse condemned us
I don’t remember the Catholic Church saying anything directly about this when I was a child – it just wasn’t mentioned. I was pretty shocked to find that my local church had a petition in the foyer against same sex marriage in 2012.
No role models on TV
There were no gay or lesbian couples on TV or films when I was growing up; apart from Mr Humphries in ‘Are You Being Served’. Usually and lesbigay character was killed off or were found to be the murderer. If you don’t believe me watch some of it. Even more recently when we were so happy to have a lesbian couple on ‘Last Tango in Halifax’, fans were disappointed that one of them was killed off. Often, the tale told is about the ‘coming out’ torment; I find this particularly annoying.
If we aren’t to be ashamed we need to see ourselves on the TV, in films and books – as just the same ordinary people as straights.
2000 – I could join the armed services.
2005 – I could form a civil partnership (Civil Partnership Act 2004)
2005 – I could adopt a child
2010 – I could bring a case of employment and other discrimination (Equality Act)
2010 – recognition and the start of equality for Trans people
2013 – I could have a same sex marriage or convert my civil partnership to a same sex marriage (Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act)
2020 – first lesbian and female couple on Strictly (I refused to watch before then)
2021 – first gay man and male couple on Strictly
2021 onwards – loads of brilliant and ordinary lesbian and gay characters on TV especially on Netflix, Disney (yes Disney!) and Amazon Prime. They have ordinary lives and aren’t killed off at the earliest opportunity. Watching TV is a delight these days.
2022/3 – a ban on conversion therapy (hopefully)
Pride as a Party
As things eased for us, so Pride changed. As rights were given to us, so Pride got bigger. Straight people joined in. Lots of straight people joined in. So many more people came that the end of the Pride march (at a park) had to be enclosed for safety and an entry price/ticket was demanded. Lots of commercial sponsorship followed. There became an awareness of the ‘pink pound’. I have only once paid to go to Pride. That was Brighton Pride in 2019 when Kylie came to Brighton! Kylie is a gay icon. From time to time I do still go and march.
It’s important to keep Pride going, for the youngsters. That they aren’t alone. Overall, I feel really optimistic for young people. They just won’t have the same hang ups or shame (or I hope they won’t). They’ve made their own vocabulary, their own way in the world. It’s just wonderful.
I’ve always thought that we’ll know we have true equality when any boy can bring his boyfriend or any girl, her girlfriend home for tea.
Are we there yet? Until then, let’s keep Pride.