Pride, protests, pandemic
Before the lockdown, what were your plans for the summer? Chances are they’ve been cancelled due to social distancing rules or postponed until further notice. While February is LGBT+ history month, June is Pride month (chosen because of the Stonewall riots) and the time most people choose to celebrate, so this summer's Pride parades and other LGBT+ events are no exception. For some, these events are seen as glorified parties and no big loss; for myself and a significant part of the LGBT+ community, these events are celebrations of freedom and the progress that has been made towards equal rights and, as such, key parts of the social calendar.
Since its beginning as a literal riot, Pride has always been about recognition and community, and its new reputation as an excuse for day drinking and excessive glitter belittles the importance it has both historically and culturally. Although the 1969 Stonewall riots weren't the first protest against LGBT+ discrimination by the police (for example, the Cooper Do-nuts riot ten years earlier was one of the first American LGBT+ uprisings), they are the most widely known. The majority of early protests and riots were in retaliation to police raids and anti-LGBT+ behaviour, which is why there is still a ‘no police at Pride’ sentiment in many places, even if at the time they could get away with their behaviour under the law. (For context, in some of the UK, homosexuality was only decriminalised for men over 21 in 1967. The law has been amended more recently, but from the ‘Buggery Act’ of 1533 up until 1861, homosexuality was a capital offense and legally on a par with bestiality, which pretty much sums up the general attitude towards homosexuality for years.)
The first UK Pride was held on the nearest Saturday to the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in 1972. Discrimination protection for LGBT+ people only came in during 2010. In such a relatively short time, Pride events have helped the community to find acceptance and support, as well as putting pressure on those in power to act against discrimination. Admittedly, Section 28 (which banned the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities) was only repealed in 2000, and even now there is debate about whether or not LGBT+ education is suitable for schoolchildren. However, when homosexuality has been criminalised for so long, these are hard earned steps towards equality.
Comparatively, the UK is fairly equal for LGBT+ people. However, there's still a lot for the community and its allies to work for, and Pride events have a large part in raising awareness and funds for the cause. Countless charities that provide life-changing services are aided by Pride publicity and fundraising, and while Pride-washing is a thing – a money grab from companies trying to cash in on a community in search of recognition – there are also many companies using their platform to support these charities and share positivity during Pride month.
On a more personal level, Pride events provide a safe space for people to be themselves and find others like them, especially for those still trying to find themselves. The legacy of Section 28 still lingers and it can be difficult to find factual, unbiased information about LGBT+ necessities like healthcare and rights, especially when you're on your own. For myself and many others, Pride events are a place to find this information and to find people who can help you in the right direction, as well as finding a sense of belonging for those in need.
According to the UK government's annual releases of police data, bias-motivated abuse or hate crimes towards the LGBT+ community have been on the rise, so now more than ever Pride events and community are essential. Rather than dwelling on the negatives of current situations, or the harsh history of the fight for rights, Pride month and the many events linked to it are a great chance to look forward and celebrate success.
The best way to honour the work of LGBT+ pioneers is to continue in their footsteps and do everything we can to improve the quality of life for younger members of the community. Every time I have to answer someone's invasive or uncomfortable questions about my gender or sexuality, I do it in the hope that the next LGBT+ person they meet won't have to do the same, or that my answers will help them to understand themselves better if they're questioning themselves, and I know many others in the community share this sentiment. It's this spirit that gives me every faith that, even in lockdown with all the big events cancelled, celebrations and protests will continue online or in lockdown-approved ways, and as always, everyone will be welcome.
For those who are curious about LGBT+ history and the huge impact of Pride events, there are plenty of documentaries and resources online. Even Netflix has documentaries about all sorts of LGBT+ topics, from the life and death of Stonewall pioneer Marsha P. Johnson, to the historic porn store Circus of Books (which is a lot less sleazy and much more heartwarming than it sounds, I promise). Many charities have lists of resources on their websites and Pride season usually means a surge in related media being shared online, so hopefully the pandemic won't have harmed the Pride spirit.
Luch Conte is a sewist and cutter for Tabitha Eve, a keen activist for LGBTQ+ rights and the inspiration behind the PRIDE and TRANS facial pads. Go Luch!