Pride London 2011

This weekend, thousands will march through the streets of London during the annual Pride parade, in a high-visibility show of support for gay, lesbian and transgender rights.

In 2011, homophobia has been rousted out from most of its dark crevices – certainly, it is no longer acceptable to vilify or shun people based on their orientation and, among members of Generations X and Y, the prevailing atttude could be characterised as indifference: ‘Some people are gay – get over it.’ Of course, it wasn’t always like that.

“Only 700 people joined the first ever Gay Pride march in Britain,” recalls gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of the first Pride parade in 1972. “Many of my friends were too scared to march. They thought everyone would be arrested. We weren’t arrested, but we were swamped by a very heavy, aggressive police presence. They treated us like criminals.

“Unlike nowadays, there was no festival or entertainment in the park after the march – just an impromptu ‘Gay Day’ – a sort of D-I-Y *** picnic. Everyone bought food, booze, dope and music. It was all shared around.”

Out and Proud

The Pride London parade is all-singing, all-dancing, with outlandish costumes and floats, a proper party, a celebration. Back then, though, gays and lesbians were a persecuted minority, a situation only rectified through direct action.

“To combat the invisibility and denigration of *** people, the Gay Liberation Front decided to organise a Gay Pride march, with the theme of being out and proud,” he says. “This was a very radical idea. In those days, nearly all LGBT people were closeted and many felt ashamed of their sexuality.”

Thatchell was 20 years old and living in Shepherd’s Bush with his 17-year-old boyfriend. The Tube cost 10p and David Bowie was the latest pop sensation.

“In those days, queers were not free. We had to fight for our rights,” Thatchell says.

“Same-sex kissing in public was, in 1972, illegal. The cowardly Metropolitan Police would have arrested us if we were lone gay couples kissing, but they dared not arrest 700 of us.”

Battles still to be fought

The landscape for homosexuals has altered vastly since the bad old days, reflected by the sheer scale of this year’s Pride London parade.

“In the last four decades Gay Pride has grown from one march with less than a thousand people to two dozen nation-wide parades with a combined attendance of over 250,000,” Thatchell says.

“The increased acceptance of LGBT people is another big change. In 1972, homosexuality was still viewed as an illness, lesbian mothers had their kids taken off them, and the police were arresting thousands of men for consenting gay behaviour.”

That the needle has swung irreversibly toward acceptance raises the question of whether flamboyant displays of gay rights are still necessary, still relevant. Thatchell, though, points out that there are still battles to be fought.

“There are still injustices to overcome, such as homophobic bullying in schools and the bans on same-sex marriage and gay blood donors. We must keep campaigning to overturn these last vestiges of homophobia.”

» Starts in Portland Place, W1  Regent’s Park
Jul 2