June is Pride Month, and it’s something that I’ve always been a little ambivalent about. I’m not really one for parades, floats, and feather boas. My first and only Pride experience so far in life was a party in Oxford last month. And that was dampened when, a little before midnight, I got a text asking where I’d gone out that night, and if I was close to London because there had been an attack there.
Of course, I wasn’t in London, I was fine. But other people weren’t, other people were injured, or died in the attack. Later that night, walking outside with my friend so she could have a cigarette, I overheard two people talking about the attack. I couldn’t make out the details or anything, just that they knew it had happened. Looking back on the Pride party, and the news that I heard during in it, has gotten me thinking about, and rethinking, the way that we approach Pride as a community.
The first Pride Parade in New York took place in June of 1969, a short time after the Stonewall riots. Stonewall was seen as the beginnings of the LGBT rights movement. Now, I’m not saying that all Pride needs to come at the aftermath of riots or upheaval, but the way that Pride happens now feels disconnected from its roots and history. Before, Pride was a necessity, a political statement. Now it’s a luxury, and it shouldn’t be treated like one. Even the politics of Pride come from necessity now, like if things were all going fine, there’d be no need for politics at all, it could just be a party and we could all stay out all day and night before staggering back with a well-earned hangover the next morning. In Washington D.C., there was an “equality march,” and when it was written about, an emphatic statement about it was made: “This was not a pride parade.” Instead, it was people from all walks of life “marching in solidarity […] to protest how they believe the Trump administration could negatively affect the LGBT community.”
The fact that something explicitly political gets just as explicitly called “not a pride parade” shows how Pride as it exists now has become so distant from Pride as it was. The NPR report on the equality march, which took place a day after the D.C. Pride parade, mentions that some in the LGBT community see this historical moment as “an opportunity to note that while LGBT rights have increased over the past decade, there’s still a long way to go.” And they’re right. The issue of needing to do more for the rights of the LGBT community isn’t just something affected by the shadow the Trump administration has cast over some parts of America. A recent study revealed that a quarter of homeless youth in the UK are LGBT. The study also found that “69 percent of homeless LGBT youth were forced out of their homes by their families.” Statistics like this show that there’s a long way to go in terms of the LGBT community feeling safe and feeling like their representatives care about them.
This has become suddenly and starkly noticeable and necessary in the wake of the UK general election, and the government entering into an informal coalition with the socially conservative, anti-LGBT DUP. In spite of the slightly click-bait-y title of this indy100 piece, the quotes are eye-opening in the worst possible way. The piece mentions a quote by DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr. when he was interviewed in 2005, and said “I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong. I think that those people harm themselves and – without caring about it – harm society.” Now, ignoring the fact I’d be more than willing to harm the DUP’s narrow and bigoted notions of society, these comments show that, even if we don’t want it to be, Pride might need to become political again. And even though Paisley’s quote is from 2005, their views haven’t developed as time has gone on. In 2016, the leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, said that she takes issue when “people try to redefine marriage,” believing in what could charitably be called the “traditional” view of the union. And in 2015, the DUP health minister, Jim Wells, said “the gay lobby is insatiable, they don’t know when enough is enough.” Enough is equal rights, equal treatment under the law, and not having to tolerate the bigotry spouted by MPs who are propping up this country’s government. Enough is a Tory minister saying on TV he doesn’t find gays and lesbians repulsive, instead of saying “let’s be very clear, just because they’re going to support us, they’re agreeing to support us on the economic issues, the big economic and security issues facing this country, it doesn’t mean we now agree with all of their views.” Which is what he did.
Pride has always been the legacy of Stonewall, of the first step taken, and first brick thrown, for equal rights. Now, in turbulent political times, is the best time to rediscover that legacy. In a perfect world, Pride would have always had something of a relationship with the politics that spawned it, instead of allowing corporations to cosy up with Pride organisations one month out of the year, and doing nothing noticeable during any of the other eleven. Politics may have forced itself back onto the Pride agenda this year, and I hope that it’s here to stay. I hope that Pride, and equal marriage don’t lead to complacency, especially among well-off members of the community whose problems began and ended with whether or not they could get married. Equal marriage was and is an important issue, but there’s so much more that the LGBT community is facing now, and in the future. A Pride that the community can be proud of should acknowledge this, and fight for the next steps forward, as well as celebrating the distance already travelled.