June is upon us, which means it’s Pride month – an opportunity to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, look at how far it’s come, and see what positive changes need to happen in the future.
While many Pride celebrations are in June, various other marches and events happen throughout the year – such as London Trans+ Pride on July 9, and UK Black Pride on August 14.
This is set to be a particularly important year – not only does 2022 mark a return to big events after a few years of Covid-related restrictions, but Pride in London (July 2) is celebrating its 50th anniversary, Pride Edinburgh (June 25) its 25th, and Chester Pride (August 13-14) its 10th.
Before the pandemic, Pride celebrations were becoming bigger and bigger – with some suggesting it had lost its original meaning: protest. But the pandemic caused many of us to pause and re-evaluate our priorities – and could this impact what Pride is like this year?
“I think Pride continues to have a really important role,” says Tag Warner, CEO of Gay Times (gaytimes.co.uk) – who says he uses the word ‘Pride’ not just to mean the parade in London, but “also Trans Pride, UK Black Pride, different regional Prides, etc”.
The impact Warner sees most “is young people learning about their identity, who are then exposed to many other people who might have that shared identity” – and they might then feel: “I’m not alone, I can be accepted, I’m not in a place where I feel like I’m the odd one out.”
It’s not just young people who can benefit from the community feel of Pride, either. As Warner adds: “There might be people [of all ages] who have just started to understand their identity. It’s so exciting to see people feel safe in a space that’s been created where they are not the odd one out, but where they feel accepted by the people around them.”
Pride started as a protest. “In 1972, when the Gay Liberation Front organised the UK’s first ever Pride march, they were marching to protest against police violence, the unequal age of consent laws and the societal attitudes which enabled discrimination against LGBTQI+ people,” says Phyll Opoku-Gyimah – also known as Lady Phyll – co-founder and executive director of UK Black Pride and executive director of international LGBTQ+ human rights charity, Kaleidoscope Trust. “These activists and organisers had been inspired by a chance meeting with the Black Panthers in Philadelphia the year before, and so our Pride movement in the UK began with, what we would now call, an intersectional focus.”
Lady Phyll says UK Black Pride has “always felt it necessary that Pride remain political”, but “over the the years, as certain communities have been conferred rights, there has been less of a focus, or concern, for the many and varied ways LGBTQI+ people in the UK continue to be impacted by racism, misogyny and the precarity that austerity has wrought on so many people”.
Warner agrees the original meaning of Pride has become blurred over the years. “I don’t blame the excitement that came with that [the parties getting bigger and bigger],” he says. “Of course it’s exciting – it’s this thing that builds every year. But I think people massively lost focus on what we were all doing.”
He suggests Covid gave many people more of a chance to reflect on what’s important, and we might be seeing more of the spirit of protest at this year’s Pride. “Covid was devastating, but the silver lining was it allowed us to take a moment to think about the purpose of it all,” he reflects.
This year, he’s hoping people will be thinking about the political impact of Pride: “What are our rights? What are the cultural societal challenges – not just from a legal perspective? How do we need to come together to understand what the priorities are, make noise about them, and then try and address them as a single voice?
“I think that’s where Pride has a really important political role – it demonstrates to the LGBTQ+ population that their voices matter.” Warner also hopes a to see a particular focus on the rights and treatment of trans and non-binary people. “The work hasn’t been finished – there’s so much to be done,” he adds.
Lady Phyll is also expecting to see a shift at Pride. “It feels like there may be an increasing awareness that our Pride movements have become too corporate and without enough focus on some of the very real issues impacting LGBTQI+ people in the UK: food and job insecurity, homelessness, poor mental health and a gutting of vital health services,” she says.
The theme of this year’s UK Black Pride – held on August 14 at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London – is ‘power’. “Many of us understand ‘power’ in the ways it’s been weaponised against us: domination, coercion and control,” explains Lady Phyll. “And we want to remind ourselves and our communities that we continue to demonstrate immense power in the ways we show up for each other, in the ways we speak out against injustice and in the ways we centre love and solidarity in our work and lives.
“That power we have demonstrated together should be celebrated and amplified, and so ‘Power’ feels like the right way to acknowledge this fraught and potential-filled moment we inhabit together.”
“In order for Pride to be inclusive, it must account for and acknowledge that different LGBTQI+ people and communities need different things. Pride isn’t only a moment for celebration of our progress, but should also be a clarion call for what needs to improve – and so much needs urgent attention,” says Lady Phyll.
She cites research from UK Black Pride’s 2021 survey We Will Be Heard, where 47% of respondents said they had been insulted, pestered, intimidated or harassed – with 56% feeling it was motivated by their race or ethnicity, and 47% their sexuality.
“In order for any of us to show up in the world, or at Pride, with pride, we must have our needs met,” says Lady Phyll – who suggests big part of this is allowing people of colour to have LGBTQ+ spaces where they are welcome, as well as addressing concerns around mental health support, job security and access to food.
For Warner, allies should understand “the difference between being there to support and encourage, rather than being the centre of attention”. He continues: “I think it’s great for straight allies to take a moment before anything that’s happening – whether it’s an event or the month itself – to say, ‘It’s alright this isn’t about me, but what I can do is use my energy to lift up and support someone else?’.”
This could be asking a younger friend or family member if they want you to accompany them to a Pride event. “I’ve seen so many straight people – whether it’s parents, brothers or sisters – take a family member to a Pride march, and that is so positive because there’s someone there they know and trust to support them.”
While Warner doesn’t want straight people to think about the issues facing LGBTQ+ people just once a year, he says it does give people more of an exposure to LGBTQ+ topics and issues, and they can ask themselves: “How can I take this opportunity to spend a bit of time to better educate myself, and try to challenge any potential thoughts or prejudices I might have?”
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