We are all gearing up ready for summer – and for many of us it signals the beginning of Pride season.
It is also the time when the question is asked: what is the point of Pride?
This year’s Pride season comes in the wake of a mass shooting at an Orlando gay bar, Pulse, leaving 49 patrons dead on Sunday. In the hours that followed, vigils were held throughout the UK, and the rest of the world, for those killed and wounded in the deadliest shooting in U.S. history.
So why is Pride important? Doesn’t it just reinforce stereotype? With equal marriage passed through our Parliament haven’t we secured equal rights now?
For those that are seen as part of the ‘norm’ in terms of sexuality and gender, they can confidently go about their lives without fear of reprisal. Whether it’s being who they are at work and within their families, expecting and receiving equality and living with those they love.
Yet for many of us that identify with being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, that’s simply not the case. As a direct result of homophobia, we have not achieved full acceptance here in the UK, or indeed, most countries throughout the world.
For those who are blissfully unaware of Pride’s origins, let me take you back to 1969. The Stonewall Inn, New York. It is largely regarded as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the USA. In those days, gay bars were regularly raided by the police, but on 27 June 1969, the customers of the inn had had enough.
As the police descended upon the bar, a crowd of 400 patrons gathered on the street outside and watched as the officers arrested the bartender, doorman, and several drag queens. Something about that night ignited years of anger at the way police treated gay people. The crowd grew, police reinforcement arrived, but the antagonised protesters fought back.
The following Wednesday, approximately 100 protestors returned to continue the rally and march on Christopher Street. A movement had begun. The following year, a march was organised in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots (as they had been termed) and between 5,000-10,000 men and women attended. In honour of Stonewall, many Gay Pride festivities around the world are held during the month of June, including New York City’s Gay Pride Week.
So for those less fortunate who came before us, for those that have stood up to be counted and to remind those who have become complacent, Pride is an opportunity to celebrate human sexuality and gender in all its difference. To create positive visibility for a community that has suffered greatly under a cloak of invisibility.
Pride is a day when LGBT families can meet other families and see that they go through the same trials and tribulations, the same joys and the same love as their straight counterparts. It is a space where you can be yourself: where ordinarily you would be frightened of holding hands with your loved one for fear of attack, at Pride you can show your affection openly.
It is a day when the transgender community can act, dress and present themselves as they wish without the despair of humiliation and ridicule. We make new friends and allies at Pride, we form committees, and contribute to fresh ideas about how to tackle the obstacles still facing us.
There is a train of thought that Pride has become too commercial, too corporate and is all about drunken abandonment. Gone are the days when Pride stood side by side with LGBT artists and performers. They have been replaced by reality TV stars, or those that have ‘bared all’ to enhance their LGBT devotees. But if that’s what the audience wants, then that’s what they have got!
In addition Pride will, for some, arrive in an explosion of glitter and rainbows, complete with scantily clad men and women. For others, it comes as a timely reminder that while the parades are about LGBT declaring our existence, many have to try that bit harder to be recognised and to have our histories and struggles heard.
Pride is the only way we can empower ourselves and future generations to fight for a better future for LGBT people. We have to empower Pride as an engine of change.
We owe it to the victims of the massacre to remain confident. In the aftermath of Orlando, we owe it to each other to make Pride more visible than ever.
I am proud far beyond one day of the year. Proud to be fighting for a better future. I will never forget where we have come from and hope for the day when Pride events are no longer necessary.
That is why, this summer, you’ll find me popping up at various Pride events around Europe – marching proudly with my wife and sons. I’ll be doing that for the past and for future generations, and because society still has a long way to go to fully welcome diversity and equality.
So I ask you, gay or straight, to swallow your pride and support your community as a whole. This summer, have fun, stay safe and embrace who you are.