Huw Lemmey writes in Open Security about the intellectual origins of Pride with the passion of youth and a committed left wing view of LGBT issues. http://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/huw-lemmey/losing-pride
He asks questions but offers no answers, prompting me to join the debate bringing the personal into reasons for Pride. Why do we march and what are we proud of?
I very well remember being young, vetting partners for their left wing credentials and thinking we could change the world. Thank goodness there are still those who believe that. However, I come from a time and place where homosexuality was illegal and I’m amazed that we have come so far in my lifetime. I remember my first pride in the late 80’s, walking over Westminster Bridge nervously holding hands with my boyfriend. It was the only day of the year when we felt bold enough to do this. It was thrilling, a seemingly defiant act, which in retrospect seems insignificant. Yes, we speculated about the cameras on helicopters identifying us later – part of the paranoia we’d been programmed into but there was a feeling of empowerment (probably imagined) much like my experience marching against the Vietnam War in the 70s.
Did it make a difference? I believe so, but not necessarily in the ways you might expect. The sight of Lesbians and Gay men visible to the public and media (The Bi came later, followed by Trans and now Queer – where will it end?) caused derision, hate and laughter from media and onlookers but it gave us confidence to be ‘Out’ to friends and family, the workplace was to come later. So over the years people got used to the fact that we exist. In what then seemed like an achingly slow journey, acceptance grew to where we are now. Lemmey cites Stonewall as a pivotal moment in our history, and I recommend Martin Duberman’s book Stonewall – an account of the gay struggle for liberation in the US. However, the drag queens at the Stonewall Inn weren’t part of a political organisation; they were just pissed off and pushed to the edge by the Cops. They unwittingly started a revolution. That’s how revolutions usually begin and the intellectuals quickly move in to invent the ideology. It’s a very slow revolution and continues with advances and retreats.
The difficulty for intellectuals such as Lemmey, is that we are not a politically or sociologically homogenous group. We are not, like miners or teachers but can be found in all cultural, class and political groups. I used to think it inconceivable that any gay man could vote conservative. I didn’t know any and assumed that if they did exist, were sheltering in ‘The Closet’. Now, with more experience, and the predominance of centre-ground politics, I know and dare I say, like a number of Tory gay men. At the other end of the political spectrum I count a Marxist as a dear friend. That LGBT people inhabit such a wide spectrum is, I believe, a strength in our continuing struggle to be visible to all sections of society. Our goal must be for our sexuality to be unremarkable to everyone.
So, the representation of workers from banks, supermarkets the Civil Service and other corporations in this year’s pride is surely a good step in spreading the ‘Some people are gay – get over it’ campaign and taking the revolution to new levels. Back in the eighties Pride struggled for sponsorship (I vividly remember Ian McKellen then running around rattling a bucket desperately trying to get Pride revellers to donate) and was always going broke or having funds embezzled. That companies are now willing to sponsor indicates a new tolerance for their employees, many of whom would have been sacked in the past. Hopefully there is also a more responsible Pride management, because sponsors need looking after.
Does all this mean that the battle is won? By no means, vigilance and visibility will always be needed. As I marched with Out to Swim this year being hotly pursued by Front Runners, I overheard one elderly man say to another –
‘God help us, there’s even a running group.’
While such dinosaurs exist, we need to be vigilant. A few weeks ago two young men were queer bashed by sixteen-year-olds in Whitechapel, not far from where I live. Prejudice is also alive and growing in the young – we need to be vigilant and have pride in our sexuality and diversity.