Why Pride Still Matters
I haven’t been to Pride in London since Victorian times, when we were beaten with wolves and locked up at the bottom of the lake in Hyde Park before appearing in magistrate’s courts early in the morning so that the judges could get off to brothels before teatime, but if one thing could persuade me to go to Pride today, it would be the rainbow tube stations. You need sunglasses to go into Oxford Circus at the moment. This year Pride is sponsored by Barclays and Tesco, although this apparently doesn’t entitle you to an overdraft or 20% off a bakewell tart. As always during Pride and Wimbledon fortnight, the good weather is breaking; a sure sign that God hates poofs and tennis.
Like all movements that pass from repression to inclusion, it went through a number of stages taking decades. First illegality and invisibility, then protests, jailings, riots, visibility, legality, grudging acceptability, full acceptance and finally active inclusion. The gap between these last two stages is by far the longest. I have never not known freedom in London, and count myself lucky to have grown up during the bridge between acceptance and inclusion.
Why? Because I was able to experience the growth of London’s liberal independence free of commercialisation, when it was still something fresh, exciting and slightly piratical. It’s a sanitised product now, to be sponsored by banks and supermarkets as a way of gaining instant kudos, and no worse for that, just a bit less fun. The upside is an earned right; to be as boring as anyone else.
So, despite the closure of nearly 70% of London’s LGTB+ venues, mainly due to rapacious property developers, the arrival of equality and the right to marry would make you think it was Job Done. It’s not.
It’s now 18 years since a neo-Nazi walked into a gay bar in Soho and blew it apart with a nail bomb, severely injuring 70 and killing 3. The venue was regularly used by my company for office drinks after work. On the night of the bombing we all headed there for beers, but just as we drew close the place exploded.
One of the survivors was a much-loved barman, David Morley. He suffered burns during the attack but continued to help others in the area despite his own injuries. Five years later he and a friend were accosted by a teen gang including a 15 year-old girl at Waterloo Station. Morley was beaten to death. His injuries were horrific. The gang was wandering the streets ‘looking for people to beat up’.
This year, Karar Noshi (above), a famous Iraqi actor, was tortured to death for having long hair and ‘looking gay’, the 15th transgender person in America was just murdered, an MP who voted against the equal age of consent has been appointed Minister for Equalities, a man was stoned by a homophobic gang in Belfast, and Linda Harvey, a Christian commentator who has previously complained about having nowhere to shop because stores are too gay friendly, wants to trademark the rainbow because LGBT+ people have stolen it from God. Here she is. To be honest, although we could probably have a good argument I wouldn’t really want to have dinner with her, mainly because she has a face like a slapped arse.
To be in London now is to think in a fundamentally different way about gender, race, sexuality. Away from city, you’re more likely to notice who isn’t visible. You breathe a sigh of relief when you return. As we know, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Otherwise you end up with the mentality of those in Russia, Nigeria and Egypt. It’s a safe bet I won’t be going on holiday to Azerbaijan or Chechnya anytime soon – too bad; my generous tourist buck might have helped their crumbling economies. Although the main reason I wouldn’t go is that, frankly, they look like utter shitholes.
So, we reach the end of a long (50 year) road. Rights can be enshrined by law but may still be eroded by loss of public support. London’s welcoming liberal attitude is rightly legendary and has become enshrined in its character. Pride helps to make sure that it stays that way. Have fun, have pride, whoever you are, whatever you do.