This year marks the 50th anniversary of London’s first Gay Pride rally which took place on 1st July 1972.
For many of us this is more than our entire lifetime ago, and we cannot deny that attitudes and legislation have evolved through the decades; we have a lot to be proud of.
We have a lot to celebrate, and a big summer parade with a month of parties and events gives us the perfect opportunity to do so. We have it so much better now, one might argue, is there any protest left in Pride? Is there any point in it at all?
There exists privilege within our community as in any section of society, and the idea that we have achieved all we need to in our struggle for recognition and equality stems from such a place. Equality is not enjoyed by all of us, the law does not always protect us and we live in a mainstream culture that easily forgives a bit of discrimination towards any marginalised group, including racism, biphobia, ableism and fatphobia.
The biggest platforms are reserved for the likes of Ricky Gervais who think that controversial is cool, without thinking of the dangerous impact of reinforcing ingrained bigotry, giving audiences permission to ‘other’ us and laugh at our expense.
For the trans and gender diverse community, it’s a bit of a mess right now. The government and major media platforms have allowed a ‘debate’ to arise as to whether trans people are deserving of equal rights, then left the outpouring of hatred and fear to bubble up and explode.
We hear and read so much about how harmful trans rights would be to other groups and how they would turn the world upside down, that you can be forgiven for feeling a little confused. But it isn’t confusing. Trans identities are real and valid; trans people are human; and we are not a threat – not in toilets, primary schools, athletics or anywhere else. We just exist. And we want to be proud too.
The discomfort and ignorance of people in power when it comes to addressing trans rights is evident. Trans people were excluded from the ban on conversion therapy that was announced this year, and a parliament debate on legal recognition for non-binary people went entirely unnoticed and was filled with misconceptions and flawed arguments.
That’s why Pride continues to be a protest, and it needs to do so. In recent years, a lot of organisations have opted out of the main Pride In London event for a variety of reasons: the big companies taking up more space than community groups; issues around accessibility and racism; the anti-trans group that somehow managed to ‘lead’ the parade in 2018. My choir has a long history of marching but felt that not enough was being done to address these issues and so has also opted out since 2021.
But we can still feel proud. And we can celebrate. Up and down the country, dozens of Pride events have been emerging and the number increases each year. Local and smaller pride events are more important than a Londoner such as myself may ever realise.
People who grow up away from big cities are much more likely to feel isolated from the LGBTQ+ community and may find it harder to come out, be themselves, make friends or find a partner. Other Pride events such as Black Pride, Bi Pride and Trans Pride are also much more community focused, less corporate and more accessible than the main London parade.
One of the greatest joys of Pride, of celebrating with our community, is the feeling of freedom and the chance to be ourselves. Whether or not we are out in other areas of our lives, such as within our families or at work, joining in and being visible as our authentic selves can bring with it a euphoria that people outside of our community may never get to experience.
I’m always happy when I see public figures such as popstars, politicians or sports people come out – it’s brave. They may be privileged in many ways, but they likely face a huge backlash and a torrent of hate on social media. Yet their coming out is important because each one makes us that much more visible in mainstream society, reminding the world that we exist, and reminding us that we too can take up space in the world of sports, music, politics or any other high profile career.
When Jake Daniels came out as gay I saw a lot of comments that in 2022 a footballer shouldn’t need to come out; as long as he’s good at football, nobody cares if he’s gay. It may feel nice to say that as a straight ally, safe in the knowledge that you’re accepting and tolerant of other genders and sexualities. And I hope that one day it really will become irrelevant and won’t make headlines at all. But while we exist against the backdrop of a cis-gendered, heteronormative reality, where assumptions about your identity will always be made unless you come out and say otherwise, then coming out stories will continue to be noteworthy.
As for the rest of us who are not in the public eye, the impact of coming out and being out, complex and traumatic as the journey may be, is tremendous. In my own experience, coming out wasn’t a single episode that I could recount in a couple of sentences.
As is the case for so many people, coming out can be a daily chore – whether it’s correcting someone who has assumed you to be gay if you have a same-gender partner, or asking people to use the correct pronouns, or dealing with being mis-gendered because you don’t fit the norm of what a person of your gender should look like.
Coming out can be exhausting and feel like a never-ending struggle; but in my own life, every step I’ve taken over the last 20 years towards being more open, visible and authentic has gone hand in hand with an improvement in mental health, wellbeing, a sense of security in my identity, confidence and happiness. I’m still only part of the way through this journey and reaching middle age now, but acknowledging this makes me feel so much more optimistic and excited about continuing to explore my identity and my sense of belonging to a community.
Coming out hasn’t just been for me either. The people around me have had to adjust to using different pronouns, adjusting their gendered language and referring to me in different ways. My friends and relatives come out on my behalf every time they use ‘they’ or call me their sibling instead of their sister, their child instead of their daughter. They deserve the pride too.
This year more than any other, I’m reflecting on how proud I am of how far I have come in my own journey, navigating transition and living life outside of the gender binary. In January I faced a lifelong phobia of having surgery which had made me doubt if I could ever physically transition or feel at ease in my body.
I’m proud and grateful to myself for taking that step. I’m proud of my friends and family for their unwavering love and support. And I’m proud of our community for continuing to stand up for all of our rights, freedoms and identities year after year, paving the way for genuine progress for all of us.
Titles: Non-binary, Writer, Runner